Judging authorship in divided cultural work: Broadcast series formats in mid-century idea law

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the mid-twentieth century, US courts and legal commentators confronted increasingly prominent problems of idea protection. While not unique in raising such problems, the maturing radio and television broadcasting industry intensified and complicated them – in the unruliness of its idea markets, and the distinctive relation between idea and expression implied in broadcast series formats. Idea law offers a revealing scene of discourse about mid-century broadcast writing – a scene for making sense and value from often ambiguous and ambivalent writing practices. In particular, problems of idea protection and copyright’s idea–expression dichotomy draw out tensions across divisions of writing labour. This article explores how midcentury idea law struggled to account for the economic and cultural value of ideas, in arguments that compose particular but provocative discourses about broadcast authorship. It also points towards some of the broader interest of those arguments – as a particular case study in the fragmentation of authorship, and as a provocative but neglected antecedent for contemporary concerns like amateur participation, recombinatory creativity and even the ‘creative economy’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-154
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Screenwriting
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Amateurism
  • Authorship
  • Broadcast formats
  • Broadcast series
  • Division of labour
  • Idea law
  • Professionalism
  • Writing markets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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