Thursday, September 06, 2007

Commodification of Gee's Bend - paper

A friend forwarded to me an interesting, rather scholarly article by Victoria F. Phillips, a professor at the Washington College of Law, American University. The paper is titled "Commodification, Intellectural Property and the Quilters of Gee's Bend" in the Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law (vol 15, no 2). The 18 page paper includes the following sections:
  • The Women of Gee's Bend and Their Story
  • The Struggle for Civil Rights and the Freedom Quilting Bee
  • The Tinwood Alliance Partnership
  • Commodification Theory
  • Commodification Theory and the Quilters of Gee's Bend

The paper never really defines what "commodification" means - for the lay reader. A quick look says commodification means "to turn into a commodity" or to "make commercial." The paper explains that according to Harrison Arnett, Business Director , Tinwood Ventures (p. 369, footnote 75 and 76) "the quilters retained all the rights to the quilts made after 1984 and that Tinwood pays the community a royalty on all licensed uses for the quilts made before 1984, even though Tinwood owns the underlying intellectual property rights to these."

The author looks at various theories of commodification to see if any apply to the Gee's Bend quilts and quilters. She supports the paper with insights from Tinwood Ventures and many scholars. Unfortunately, the author does not appear to have spoken with any of the Gee's Bend quilters for their opinion. She concludes (p. 376) that the arrangement the quilters have with "Tinwood Alliance, even though achieved by contract, may well be a model worth studying ..." It's an interesting read. Enjoy!

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