Women in Law. On Collaboration, Networks and Being an Accidental Role Model

March 6, 2019

academic law, Author Articles


Blue Silhouette Dancer

“I have become a mentor to a number of younger academics in the more formal sense of the word, a task that I find as rewarding as my collaboration and networking has been over the years”

Charlotte Waelde is Professor of Intellectual Property Law at Coventry University

When asked to contribute to this blog I felt honoured and humbled (albeit slightly stressed as the invitation had been lost in my spam box for 6 weeks). I was particularly delighted that the invitation came from Iram Satti who I have always found professional and working relations with Edward Elgar to be wholly positive.

Throughout my academic career my work has been collaborative. When working at Edinburgh, I established, SCRIPT, the IP and IT Centre along with my colleagues, Hector MacQueen, Graeme Laurie, and joined by Lilian Edwards. The coming together of our different but complementary expertise was to prove highly fruitful over the next decades, most notably when we were awarded AHRC Research Centre funding in 2002, and again in 2007. This enabled us to explore a range of research topics at the intersections of IP, IT and Medical Law, collaborating with colleagues from around the world. At this time my professional relationships and networks were mostly within the law, bringing together expertise from different perspectives and jurisdictions developing new ideas and forging new partnerships. During this time I met with colleagues from the Moray Education Centre in Edinburgh University who were working on developing new technologies for severely disabled young learners. My interests in IP and IT, inclusivity and diversity came together at the time when negotiations were just starting to ramp up in earnest over the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled at WIPO. It was recommended that I read ‘On Blindness: Letters between Bryan Magee and Martin Milligan’ (OUP: Oxford 1995). This developing line of research led, via an interdisciplinary AHRC Beyond Text network grant with colleagues from music, dance and cultural policy, and several jointly authored articles on IP, Human Rights and the Marrakesh Treaty, to a meeting with Sarah Whatley, the director of the Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE) at Coventry University who had done extensive research on inclusive dance in HE. Through an intellectual curiosity as to how legal frameworks might better support a disabled dance artist in her efforts, we collaborated on a major AHRC funded project, InVisible Difference: Disability, Dance and Law. This project brought together experts in IP, Human Rights and Medical Law with academic dance professionals and practising disabled dance artists. The project was, as aptly stated by one of my law colleagues, ‘mind-blowing’.

As one thing has a habit of leading to another, and as Coventry University decided to invest in C-DaRE – a centre of international excellence in the academic dance sector – Sarah invited me to join her colleagues in the Centre. And here I am, a Professor of Intellectual Property Law working in C-DaRE with some of the best academic and practising dance artists in the country – and beyond. It has been a steep learning curve, but a pleasure from the start. One of the very first experiences I had was in a workshop at a conference in Barcelona: the workshop organiser had us rolling about on the floor being pushed and rolled (gently) by our fellow participants. Admittedly while the point of the exercise escapes me now (sorry …) I do have flashbacks, particularly when I find myself at a law conference. The audience and participants are so different: how, I wonder, would the lawyers react to a similar exercise? I have since engaged in many dance conferences but not yet participated in a law conference with my dance colleagues. A few of us in C-DaRE are currently working on a collaborative project: Copyright and Quotation in Dance. I am hoping that later this year there will be a suitable event at which we can air our findings.

My love of collaboration and networking has brought me to an unusual place in academia – a lawyer in the midst of dancers. It would not be for everyone – but I love it. Which brings me to one more reflection, that of becoming an accidental role model. I don’t really consider that I have had a role model in my academic life, in the sense of an experienced colleague to whom I would turn regularly for advice. Don’t get me wrong. I have had absolutely fabulous colleagues. One in particular I have, and will always hold, in the highest regard, and whose wisdom and expertise I value highly. But not a role model. Which is perhaps why I was both surprised, and deeply moved, when a number of years ago I discovered that some PhDs and Early Career Researchers were holding me up as someone to look up to and whose career it was worth emulating. Mainly these were female – but by no means all were. Since then I have become a mentor to a number of younger academics in the more formal sense of the word, a task that I find as rewarding as my collaboration and networking has been over the years. These young people face a very different academic environment to the one that I did when I started at Edinburgh University in 1995. Then we had the RAE, the precursor of the REF, the TEF was not even on the horizon, and work allocation models were mostly unheard of. How times have changed. While Higher Education can be a challenging place to work, I have never had a moment when I have been bored – which is not something that can be said of many professions.

4. Charlotte W 2019

Charllotte Waelde has co-edited two Research Handbooks, the Research Handbook on Intellectual Property and Creative Industries and the Research Handbook on Contemporary Intangible Cultural Heritage.

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