Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Challenging Tradition: Madhavi Sunder

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Challenging Tradition: Madhavi Sunder

Article excerpt

Title: Professor of law at University of California-Davis School of Law

Education: J.D., Stanford; B.A., social studies, Harvard

Age: 39

Career mentors: Martha Nussbaum, University of Chicago; Janet Halley, Harvard Law School; Margaret Jane Radin, University of Michigan

Advice for junior faculty: "I would advise junior scholars to find a faculty that will allow them to be courageous and to develop their own scholarly voice. Far too many junior faculty are told to play it safe and that they should hold off on ambitious projects until after tenure. I disagree."

As a young Indian-American growing up in mostly White southern New Jersey, Madhavi Sunder's most vital links to her cultural heritage included her uncles, aunts and cousins who emigrated from India to the United States. She heard stories of women in her extended family who did remarkable things--like her grandmother who became a professor of physics at one of India's elite universities and who had been a tennis champion and class president.

That early connection to her culture fostered a strong interest in culture and in women's issues that has persisted. It forms the core of her scholarship activities at the University of California-Davis, where she is a professor of law and where she teaches courses on intellectual property, international intellectual property and women's human rights.

Sunder combines a keen interest in women's rights with the impact of technology on intellectual property rights.

"My work really is about what culture is, how culture is changing in the 21st century in light of new technology and new social movements in how women, minorities and gays see themselves and demand to be heard," says Sunder, who is rapidly emerging as one of the nation's leading scholars in the legal regulation of culture, an area that largely focuses on copyright law, particularly as it relates to literature, music and film.

"My work challenges the traditional legal approach" to copyrights, she says. Sunder is a student and advocate of participatory culture, which is a growing desire on the part of many vulnerable populations like women, minorities and gays to remake the story lines and characters of popular books, films and folk stories in their own cultural images.

"In the past, a few cultural corporations would produce culture," she says. But thanks to the Internet and the proliferation of technology, people are empowered to tell their own stories.

The key legal hurdle to this movement, she says, is that, under copyright law, authors, musicians and filmmakers have the exclusive right to authorize remakes of their work. …

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