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The Kumoemon Case and Performance as Property

October 1, 2018 @ 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
Mergenthaler 266
Tian Yunchen

Kerim Yasar, University of Southern California

1914, a landmark court decision, centered on recordings of naniwabushi performer Tochuken Kumoemon (1873-

1916), determined that sound recordings were not protected from piracy under Japanese copyright law. In this talk

I examine the development of ideas of copyright from the Edo period until the enactment of legislation in 1920 that

explicitly protected recordings, and how this development reflected shifting understandings of what constitutes a

work of art and/or a commodity within a changing media-technological environment. While this development was

driven primarily by economic interests, it also opened up a space where ephemeral performativity could be

recognized as “work,” both in the sense of labor and in the sense of artistic artifact. Whereas copyright up to that

point had been rooted in the primacy of writing or inscription, mediated reproduction turned performance itself

into a commodity, into copyrightable property.