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Tollefsen, Sondra, , Bacharach, Deborah. We Did It: From Mere Contributors to Coauthors
2010, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 68 (1):23-32.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Abstract: The diversity and increasing number of recent artistic collaborations raise new and substantive philosophical questions about the nature of authorship. In the past, the problems surrounding the authorship of collaboratively produced art were tackled primarily by film theorists, who defended the conservative view that films were on a par with other artworks, having a single author. Fortunately, this is starting to change. Recently, a number of theorists, including Berys Gaut, Paisley Livingston, and C. Paul Sellors, have argued, contra auteur theory, that films (and many other artworks) are the product of multiple authors.1 Livingston and Sellors draw on recent theories of collective intentionality, specifically theories of shared intention, in order to develop their theories of coauthorship. Although we agree entirely with this anti?individualistic movement, we think there are problems with the accounts of coauthorship on offer. Some of the accounts are too weak, failing to distinguish between mere contributors and genuine coauthors, while others rely on a theory of shared intention that does not adequately account for the range and complexity of artistic collaborations present in contemporary art. Fortunately, there is an alternative theory of collective intentionality that has yet to be considered as a point of departure in developing an account of coauthorship: Margaret Gilbert’s plural subject theory. We argue that her theory provides for an account of coauthorship that successfully distinguishes between mere contributors and coauthors. It also makes sense of a number of actual cases of collaboratively produced art in which intuitively the group, rather than any set of individuals, is the author. In Section I, we rehearse Gaut’s arguments against auteur theory and explain why Gaut’s account of multiple authorship is problematically overpermissive. In Section II, we consider Livingston and Sellors’s attempts to develop an account of coauthorship that relies on the theories of shared intentions by Michael Bratman and John Searle, respectively. Both accounts are ultimately problematic in different ways. In Section III, we turn to Margaret Gilbert’s plural subject theory. At the heart of Gilbert’s theory is the notion of a joint commitment. We develop a theory of coauthorship that appeals to the notion of a joint commitment, and then we show how it helps us to distinguish between mere contributors and genuine coauthors. We also present a number of actual cases of collaboratively produced art and show how Gilbert’s plural subject theory can accommodate these cases in a way that other accounts of coauthorship cannot.

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