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Legal practitioners, linguists, anthropologists, philosophers and others have all explored fundamental challenges presented by language in formulating, interpreting and applying laws. Building on centuries of interaction between legal practice and jurisprudence, the modern field of 'law and language', or 'forensic linguistics', brings insights in linguistics and related fields to bear on topics including legal drafting and translation, statutory interpretation, expert evidence on language use and dynamics of courtroom interaction. This volume presents an interlocking series of research studies engaged with different legal jurisdictions and socio-political contexts as well as with the more abstract notion of 'law'. Together the chapters, written by international leaders in their fields, highlight recent directions in research and investigate in particular how law expresses yet also conceals power relations in its crafted use of words and in the gaps and silence between those words.
Commenting on the resemblance between two designs with similar patterns of stripes and flowers in Designers' Guild, Lord Hoffmann explains how there can still be infringement without literal copying. He points out that:
The original elements in the plot of a play or a novel may be a substantial part, so that copyright may be infringed by a work which does not reproduce a single sentence of the original. If one asks what is being protected in such a case, it is difficult to give any answer except that it is an idea expressed in the copyright work.
‘It is difficult’, says Lord Hoffmann, ‘to give any answer’. The answer he does give (that the idea is ‘expressed’ in the copyright work) neatly encapsulates the challenge presented by what is called the ‘idea–expression dichotomy’ in copyright law. That dichotomy, visited and revisited from different points of view in judicial statements and in the academic literature, forms the main topic of this chapter. My aim is to consider whether linguistic description can add anything to its clarification.
The basic distinction between ‘ideas’ and ‘expression’ can be simply stated: ideas are not protected (and so cannot be monopolised by a copyright holder, remaining available for everyone to use) but the specific expression of an idea is. This is an established concept of Anglo-American copyright law, based on the contribution made by public communications to the ‘marketplace of ideas’.
This chapter turns more directly to the form in which questions about meaning are raised. I show how meaning issues are not reducible to a general interrogative: ‘what does this mean?’ In media disputes and controversies, ‘meaning questions’ reflect a number of different, more specific categories. Each raises its own questions about what a meaning is and what might count as evidence in support of or against it.
Limits of interpretation
Imagine a reader of George Orwell's Animal Farm who believes the book is an entertaining story about personified animals (as many books for children are) but who resists any suggestion that it might be about anything else. Should that reader be encouraged to see that ‘the meaning’ of the book, drawing on what is sometimes called ‘the method of Aesop’, lies in how it uses a fictional uprising of pigs and other animals at Manor Farm as a vehicle for political allegory? If so, its meaning is about corruption of revolutionary impulses and the rise of Stalinism, as well as about human hypocrisy in general, rather than about either farms or animals. You might try to persuade such a reader towards those arguably richer meanings by focusing on episodes or themes to which the narrative gives particular prominence. Or you might highlight parallels between what happens in the book and what happened in twentieth-century European political history. Or you might trace the author's stated concerns in this and his other books.