Bound by Law?

Tales from the Public Domain, New Expanded Edition

Bound by Law?

Book Pages: 80 Illustrations: Published: September 2008

Activism, Law, Media Studies > TV

A documentary is being filmed. A cell phone rings, playing the Rocky theme song. The filmmaker is told she must pay $10,000 to clear the rights to the song. Can this be true? Eyes on the Prize, the great civil rights documentary, was pulled from circulation because the filmmakers’ rights to music and footage had expired. What’s going on here? It’s the collision of documentary filmmaking and intellectual property law, and it’s the inspiration for this comic book. Follow its heroine Akiko as she films her documentary and navigates the twists and turns of intellectual property. Why do we have copyrights? What’s “fair use”? Bound by Law? reaches beyond documentary film to provide a commentary on the most pressing issues facing law, art, property, and an increasingly digital world of remixed culture.

Readers can download a pdf of the book here.


Bound By Law presents a unique experience for anyone even slightly interested in the modern applications of copyright and trademark law. Though it is only 72 pages long and reads as easily as a cartoon strip, it conveys complex, nebulous intellectual property principals in an effective and straightforward way. By providing readers with real-life examples of disputes and concepts in action, Bound By Law easily appeals to those with no formal legal education. By presenting its material in such a novel and humorous way, however, it will also appeal to seasoned attorneys. Bound By Law makes for a pleasant diversion for readers of all levels of legal expertise.” — Devon Sparrow, Journal of High Technology Law

“[T]his book succeeds in its aim of presenting an important argument to a wider audience who might not be eager to read the ‘gray lawyerly prose’ of law review articles (70)—and manages to be accessible without oversimplifying the complex issues it raises. It is strongly recommended to anyone interested in either the legal issues of documentary making or the wider issues of law and the ownership of knowledge and culture. . . .” — TJ McIntyre, Scope

“By following the collision of documentary filmmaking and intellectual property law, Bound By Law? navigates the twists and turns of how copyright and fair use affect art and culture. . . . Although unusual, the comic book format may be the exact recipe for introducing copyright law to students and other perplexed individuals who worry about how creativity will flourish in a world where every snippet and fragment is owned and controlled.” — John F. Barber, Leonardo Reviews

“By using the comic book form, [the editors] hope to bring the problem to the attention of citizens and policy makers and enrich public debate on the subject. Sometimes funny, sometimes clever, the comic makes a very complex issue simple. Highly recommended. General readers, all undergraduate students, and professionals.” — P.J. Galie, Choice

“If you're an artist, or if you're simply interested, you can't really do without this book. . . . I'd be surprised if the lawyerly creators ever came out on the wrong side of litigation. The ‘firm’ of Aoki, Boyle & Jenkins have such a skill with the sentence, as well as an intuitive understanding of visual metaphor and artistic sequence, that it's a good comic even if you'd rather eat your own hands than read about copyright law.” — The Informant

“The comic format works. . . . Particularly delightful is the cramming full of almost every panel with easily recognisable copyrighted cultural references such as an image of Mickey Mouse, a reference to Woodstock or McDonalds, myriad cartoon and film figures and literary characters, all used without fees under the fair use protections to make the point. This is a tale of danger and hope for creative types. — Andrew F., M/C Reviews

“A knockout comic book about fair use and filmmaking. Bound by Law? riffs expertly on classic comic styles, from the Crypt Keeper to Mad Magazine, superheroes to Understanding Comics, and lays out a sparkling, witty, moving and informative story about how the eroded public domain has made documentary filmmaking into a minefield.” — Cory Doctorow, co-editor of the blog

“An indispensable guide for the perplexed (ain’t we all!) in this postmodern information age.” — Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize–winning comic book artist

“This wonderful, funny, and clever comic makes a very complex issue simple. . . . I keep a copy in my desk.” — Davis Guggenheim, Oscar-winning director of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth


Availability: In stock
Price: $22.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Keith Aoki is a longtime cartoonist and Professor of Law of the University of California, Davis, School of Law. He is the author of Seed Wars: Controversies and Cases on Plant Genetic Resources and Intellectual Property (forthcoming).

James Boyle is the William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law at Duke University Law School, a founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, and the author of Shamans, Software, and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society.

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Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4418-6
Publicity material