Chen Zhu

Colleges, School and Institutes


Chen Zhu is a Lecturer teaching at Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham. He earned his PhD from London School of Economics, where he wrote a dissertation on free and open source software licensing from a Relational Contract Theory perspective. He has an abiding interest in various aspects of music copyright. He has recently organised (with Professor Paul Heald, University of Illinois) a cross-disciplinary roundtable on “Law and Norms of Music Borrowing” at Birmingham Law School. Prior to his lectureship at Birmingham, he held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, where he co-organised (with Dr. Jenny Nex, University of Edinburgh) a Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) sponsored research workshop on eighteenth-century music copyright law accompanied by a live concert at Edinburgh’s St Cecilia’s Hall.

Research interests

My long-term research ambition is driven by an intellectual quest for understanding IP as a legal form of regulating creative activities in an ever-changing intellectual ecosystem. Copyright, as a bewilderingly dynamic component of IP, plays an important role in expanding its reach and now covers almost every aspect of day-to-day human creations. Starting from the Statute of Anne of 1709/1710 – normally regarded as the first modern copyright act – copyright, over the past three centuries, has undergone a tremendous expansion. Copyright nowadays covers not only “books” but also a sweeping range of non-literary works – including music, maps, paintings, photographs, sound recordings, films, software programs and databases. In this scenario, my research has two interweaving themes. The first one studies Creative Authorship as Cultural and Legal Constructs, while the second—inspired by Ian Macneil’s seminal writings on Relational Contract Theory—proposes  a normative framework called “Digital Relational Contract” to cope with the many challenges posed by the fast-growing digital technologies. Combining these two themes, I hope to build a coherent relational framework for understanding a more distributed copyright system that will nurture and encourage both individual and collaborative creativity in a sustainably long-term way. 

Willingness to take PhD students


PhD projects

Dr Zhu is keen to supervise postgraduate research students whose research interests lie in the following areas:

Historical and Theoretical Aspects of Copyright Law;
Moral Rights Claim/Legal Construction of Authorship;
Database rights;
Trade Mark and Branding Law;
Industrial Design Law.