Tina Piper Profile
Tina Piper (Nova Scotia & Balliol 2001) is a Professor in McGill University’s Faculty of Law. She teaches Intellectual Property Law, Canadian Legal History, and an interdisciplinary course on new models for music creation and distribution. She holds a DPhil in Law, an MPhil in Law and a BCL in European and Comparative Law from the University of Oxford, an LLB from Dalhousie University and a BASc in Engineering from the University of Toronto.
Rhodes Project: Where did you grow up?
Tina Piper: I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but I lived in Greece as a child for several years in a city called Patras. It’s the third largest city in Greece, though not many people have heard of it. Greek was actually my first language.
Rhodes Project: What was the last book that you read for pleasure?
Tina Piper: I recently read God’s Pauper: St Francis of Assisi by Nikos Kazantzakis. It’s an interpretation of the life of St Francis of Assisi. It’s unclear what the real story is because he lived so long ago – the Middle Ages – so nobody really knows what happened. People thought he was crazy because he had these extremely intense visions, and he preached poverty, love and obedience. What he’s remembered for now is his love for nature; he’s like the ecological saint. I found it particularly interesting because he has these profound contradictions. For example, he came from a very wealthy family, but he preached poverty. The book is very well done, too. Kazantsakis has really managed to capture how close intensity can be to madness, how these contradictions must almost exist in tandem, and how that is seen by others. It was that intensity that made St Francis a charismatic figure who was also loathed. It’s an interesting tale.
Rhodes Project: What motivated you to pursue law research as opposed to law practice?
Tina Piper: I worked in a law firm for a couple of summers and it was really interesting. But, I felt that my interests lay in asking the bigger and more theoretical questions. What’s fun about law is that it’s not like a lot of other academic disciplines. The theoretical component of law is much less charted. I was reading an article recently which described how law schools are similar to the way divinity schools were a hundred years ago. The academic study of Christianity didn’t actually take place until there was a department of religious studies separate from the divinity schools. The author suggested that law schools are like the divinity schools; they’re training people to be lawyers, not to think about lawyers. That’s what I liked about McGill University– it tries to cleave both sides. We’re training lawyers on the one hand, but we’re also thinking about the project of law as an academic discipline, and how it connects to other disciplines and the world at large.
Rhodes Project: Can you describe a memorable teaching moment that you’ve had?
Tina Piper: Last winter I taught an intellectual property law course. I asked students to create a public legal education project in intellectual property law. I thought this was what they were probably going to do out in the world if they didn’t become intellectual property lawyers, of which there are few in Canada. One of the groups came up with a project about the copyright restrictions attached to publishing coursepacks at McGill. Coursepacks are compilations of readings that have to go through a copyright clearance process. The students did this project as a series of comic strips. It was really successful, and they got a lot of play in the media, on blogs and on twitter. When the bookstore wasn’t willing to hand out the comic strips, the students went on a commando mission and stuck the comic strips inside the coursepacks that students were going to be buying! I think it showed the best in how people understand law and are able to make a complex topic accessible to others. It was great that they had a lot of confidence in what they created and were willing to defend their ideas.
Rhodes Project: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Tina Piper: I enjoy the diversity; I’m called on to do so many different things in the course of a day and get to use different skills. I love the fact that people think really big and are willing to try new things. Their commitment is to education, ideas and thinking about new ideas collectively. There’s an ethic of deep reflection and listening in the university that I think is really amazing. Even though sometimes things move slowly, which they do in any university, they are the product of a real conversation where people try to hear and engage with each other.
Rhodes Project: What is the greatest challenge in your job?
Tina Piper: Sometimes the biggest challenge is that the structure of the university overpowers its mission. Every time the government or granting agencies change their policies, there’s an impulse to run after them and change what we’re doing. I don’t think that suits anyone and I don’t think that’s true to our mission or mandate. With McGill, our current situation with the Quebec government is like that. Being at an institution that doesn’t have money actually has two effects: I feel that it gives me more freedom, and a university that has less funding is also strangely less invested in thinking about money. It thinks about getting by.
Rhodes Project: What is a concern that you have with the internet’s effects on the music industry?
Tina Piper: One concern is the degradation of music quality due to the poor audio quality of MP3s, and the poor quality of music heard over the internet through bad speakers. Music used to be produced and mounted on technologies that allowed its sonic properties to be appreciated. Nowadays, you are hearing massively compressed MP3s or music over the internet, which is not particularly high quality. The internet does create a more open system which is great. But I don’t know if musicians are making a living from it – although they’ve always been used to wearing different hats to get by. In Canada, we have a massive arts funding structure which allows people to work on their music and have a life that is not as precarious as it is for US artists who don’t have any real government subsidy.
Rhodes Project: If you weren’t a law professor, what do you think you might be doing instead?
Tina Piper: Lately, I’ve been really getting interested in educational development, and the theory and practice of communicating and building group consensus. I’m not sure what that would make me in terms of a profession, but I am really getting involved with it. Maybe I would be an educational developer, which is very similar to being a law professor.
Rhodes Project: What motivated you to switch from the field of engineering to law?
Tina Piper: At the time, it was just a visceral reaction. I just didn’t see myself there. The skills and interests I had, and the way I engage with the world, weren’t in tune with the engineering mindset. That could have been a gender thing: in many instances I was the only woman in my class and it was weird. I always felt like an outsider. I resisted that and believed that there was room for many kinds of people in that place. In retrospect, engineering is a rigid profession and the scope of creativity is fairly circumscribed. I’ve actually seen in some research that civil engineering was called “civil” engineering because civilians were doing the engineering, so it’s a deeply militarized profession. There were a lot of rules and a lot of structure, and there was a primacy placed on fitting within that structure. That didn’t suit my personality. But, I did maintain a preoccupation with rules. That’s what I was really curious about in law; why we follow the rules that we do, why we create the rules that we do, what are the rules that we follow and why do we decide to follow those rules.
Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?
Tina Piper: I had a baby about nine months ago, so I spend a lot of time with him these days. I also really like yoga and things with my hands like crafts, knitting, needlepoint, making quilts and things of that kind. I love anything outdoors, especially hiking.
Rhodes Project: What are you looking forward to right now?
Tina Piper: I’m looking forward to watching my son grow. I’m looking forward to a couple of books that I am working on, which I have been pulling together for almost a decade. I have a book coming out in December with two other people that’s really close to my heart, called Putting Intellectual Property in its Place. It’s about rethinking intellectual property law in the context of group activities - so in the context of crafters, scientists, musicians and artists -- and thinking about how intellectual property affects the work that they do. I’m looking forward to spending more time in Montreal and getting more embedded. It’s a great city to live in..
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