Sunday, 18 June 2017

Theft: A History of Music

Thinking about how to engage students coming to intellectual property law for the first time is something that occupies my thoughts quite a lot these days. A copyright comic might be just the answer - and if it deals mostly with the law from that other common law jurisdiction across the Atlantic, that's not necessarily a disadvantage if the purpose of the exercise is to kindle interest rather than teach hard law. And if it has "theft" in the title I will be prepared to suspend my usual reaction to the connection of that concept with intellectual property.

A large part of grabbing a student's attention is finding a route into intellectual property law from somewhere they already know and like. Music provides an excellent entrée into copyright law - probably not Mozart, but possibly some of the more recent and high-profile cases, the two most celebrated of which were US cases (but there are many from the UK too). Music copyright is precisely what James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins’ new scholarly comic book tells us about. It is (the blurb tells us) 'a celebration of these and other musicians and composers who crossed barriers and built the playlist of extraordinary Western music from ancient Greece to classical to hip-hop. Published by the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain, “Theft: A History of Music,” brings these artists’ musical borrowings to the forefront, saying that instead of stifling creativity, such “thefts” were essential to musical cross-fertilization and creation of new genres.'

The blurb continues: 'But the book also comes with a warning: At every point of new musical innovation, there was resistance and efforts to control music, whether it was from philosophers, the church, or politicians.'

You can read the full article here, and listen to James Boyle discuss the comic on NPR's The State of Things. The mere fact that it's the work (partly) of Jim Boyle is enough to sell it to me: he's an excellent writer and lecturer and I have enjoyed his work in the past, although this is the first comic book of his that I have read (the first comic book of any kind that I've read, since I gave up "war bluds" at school). I read it, pretty much in one sitting, and found it stimulating, entertaining and informative. It's going to be an ideal introduction to copyright concepts in courses I teach in the future, and best of all (coming as it does from individuals and an institution committed to the furtherance of the public domain) it's a free download. What  more could you ask?

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