The Hand of the Ancestors: Time, Cultural Production, and Intellectual Property Law


  • Boatema Boateng

  • The author is grateful to Brian Goldfarb, Kwaku Korang, and three anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous drafts of this article.

Please direct all correspondence to Boatema Boateng, University of California, San Diego, CA; e-mail:


In successfully lobbying for the expansion of the copyright protection term, culture industries in the United States have used one of the temporal dimensions of intellectual property law to strengthen their control over the circulation of cultural goods. There is another less obvious way that time factors into the regulation of cultural products, and this has to do with the modes of temporality within which those products are made and their circulation regulated. In Ghana, where certain cultural products are protected as “folklore” under copyright law, cultural goods from one kind of temporality enter a regulatory framework that belongs to another. In this article, I examine these two ways of organizing time and argue that differences in ways of conceptualizing time also factor into the exercise of power over cultural products. I further argue that the Ghanaian case provides resources for radically rethinking intellectual property law.