I genuinely enjoy reading through the piles of reprints I am sent colleagues over the year (truly, I do!). I tend to fetishize the reprint, the mini-books with their mottled binding and neat lettering. I recently received a very unusual reprint, one that I already covet but am so impressed with I am already sharing it with others. For those not on the reprint list, Keith Aoki, James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins have authored and designed “Bound by Law? Trapped in a Struggle She Didn’t Understand,” a comic book treatise on copyright law and fair use published through the Duke Center for the Study on the Public Domain. It is fantastic – not only because it clearly lays out the historical evolution of copyright and the problems of “permissions culture,” but because it explains the basics of copyright doctrine in terms that any interested reader will understand. This is, the authors tell us, part of their project. They write in their Afterword “For some strange reason, none of our intended audiences seem eager to read scholarly law review articles. What’s more, there is something perverse about explaining an essentially visual and frequently surreal reality in gray, lawyerly prose. Finally, what could better illustrate the process we describe than a work which ahs to feature literally hundreds of copyrighted works in order to tell its story, a living exercise in fair use? Hence this book.”
This got me to thinking more about various forms a law review article could take other than the predictable one symbolized by the “road map paragraph.” There has been plenty of blog traffic on the variety of legal scholarship (what’s in, what’s out, what counts, what doesn’t, see here and here and here, to link to only a few). But what about thinking more deeply about why we do legal scholarship. Who are we trying to reach with our arguments? Are we trying to reach an audience at all? Assuming we are, why not tailor our arguments for those readers? Other academics? Judges? Lawyers? Elected officials? Certainly, sometimes that means aiming to publish in the top journals in a fairly conventional way. But sometimes that might mean making a comic book; it might mean making a short documentary; it might mean creating podcasts; it might mean writing across the disciplines; it might mean writing novels. There are some law professors who are more actively engaged in a popular journalistic enterprise and some who are novelists. Aoki et al are the first law professor comic book creators that I know of. Any filmmakers out there? Visual media seems the natural evolution of things, but that may be my own bias.