“By Night She Fought for Fair Use”: Restoring the Integrity of Copyright Law, One Comic-Book Reader at a Time

Students of copyright law quickly learn that the subject is counterintuitive. One of the first revelations of this is-somewhat alarmingly-the purpose of copyright itself. Contrary to popular belief, copyright is not just about protecting an artist’s creation, but sharing it. Simultaneously protecting a work and sharing it helps to fulfill the Constitution’s mandate that Congress “promote the Progress of Science … by securing for limited Times to Authors … the exclusive Right to their … Writings.” In other words, Congress is to promote learning and the advancement of our culture. The symbiosis of protecting and sharing is effected through the Copyright Act. First, to encourage artists to create, the Act bestows copyright ownership and all of its attending rights to artists. Second, to allow the public to have access to those creations-and the opportunities for learning that go along with such access-the Act limits the owner’s rights. In this way, protection of an artist’s work is part of a “copyright deal” that the artist makes with the public. If the Copyright Act does not grant a particular right to an artist, then that means the right belongs to the public. Fittingly, works that are not protected by copyright are said to be in the public domain, and the same term applies to particular “aspects of copyrighted works that copyright does not protect.” If copyright is counterintuitive in theory, it should be no surprise that it is equally counterintuitive in practice. This is especially true of the tricky doctrine of fair use, an essential aspect of the copyright regime. Recognizing the current state of confusion surrounding fair use, three academics decided to create a work that would contextualize, explain, and defend the concept. Their medium is a comic book and is entitled Bound By Law? Written by Keith Aoki (who also provided the illustrations), James Boyle, and Jennifer Jenkins, Bound By Law? chronicles the experiences of a documentary filmmaker named Akiko. Akiko, encumbered by the current copyright system, learns that the solution to her problems is a strengthened doctrine of fair use.