Since we’ve been talking a little on the blog about copyright law and fair use, I thought I’d post this old review from TCJ that somehow never got posted to the blog.
Keith Aoki, James Boyle, and Jennifer Jenkins
Bound By Law?
Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain
B&W/ 74 pages
Is it legal to include a copyrighted character — say, the Silver Surfer — in your own comic? Can you mimic someone else’s layout? Can you include someone’s photographed image? Can you quote song lyrics? Use a film still? Draw your own version of a Dali canvas?
Corporations and media conglomerates have taken some pains to make you believe that the answer to all of these questions is “no.” Artists own their work as absolutely as you own your wallet, we are told; if you share files online, or use a quote from J.D. Salinger on your website, that’s theft, and should be punished as such.
As *Bound By Law?* demonstrates, this is nonsense. Written by three intellectual property lawyers, this essay in comics form features copyrighted characters, photographs, song lyrics, and more — all without permission or fear of being sued. These inclusions are possible because, as the writers explain, the purpose of property law is not to protect artists from theft. Instead, copyright law is intended to promote artistic expression. It does this in part by protecting artists’ rights to control their own work. But an equally important function is to *limit* artists’ control. This is the idea of “fair use” — anyone has the right to use anyone else’s art in certain ways and in certain situations without asking for permission. As the authors demonstrate, fair use is vital for artistic creation: artists need the ability to respond to, and be influenced by, one another.
*Bound By Law?* is primarily concerned with the application of copyright law to documentary film, but the points it raises are general, and are presented so clearly and with so many fascinating examples that the material is useful to artists in any medium. I have only one caveat: the book is unbearably ugly. Even for a law professor, Ken Aoki is a lousy illustrator, and the semi-fictional narrative is disastrously clumsy — the whole manages to be both amateur and charmless, like the drawings you might see on some hideous corporate intra-office puff piece. Still, if you can stand the embarrassment of having such an aesthetic disaster around the house, this is a must read. And if you can’t — well, you can always just view it online: http://www.law.duke.edu/cspd/comics/digital.html