Many people knew and loved Keith Aoki who passed away in 2011. You may remember that, at the time, Keith was working with Jennifer Jenkins and I on a comic book: a history of musical borrowing from Plato to rap. As detailed below, literally his last words to us were that we had to finish it. We had to redesign and redraw from the beginning, and we ended up expanding the project considerably. We finally finished. The book is here. There's a handsome 8.5 x 11" paperback and free download under a CC:BY:SA license. For IP and cyberprofs who didn't know Keith, this is a "graphic novel" on the history of music and musical borrowing that deals with changing incentive systems, changing technologies, the gradual entry of the law into music and the ways that today's copyright system affects musical production and distribution. There are extensive discussions of copyright basics (idea-expression, de minimis, merger, scenes a faire, fair use) that would be suitable for use in a copyright class. Fittingly, the book also deals with resistance to musical borrowing -- for reasons ranging from the philosophical and religious, to (repeated) policing of racial culture lines or the attempt to move to atomic levels of copyright control of musical fragments. The book includes a dedication to Keith that is excerpted below. The comic is also rather beautiful, in our humble opinion: a fitting memorial. We'd urge you to download it and it would please us enormously if you found some portions of it sufficiently of interest to use in your classes. And, like Keith, sometimes it will make you laugh.
Jamie and Jennifer
This book is dedicated to Keith Aoki: our colleague, co-author and, above all, our friend. Keith passed away, tragically young, while we were creating the comic. He told us of his illness matter-of-factly, a week before his death, as an “apology” for not completing more of the drawings Jennifer and I had designed. He also told us that he wanted us to finish the book we had begun together; in fact he told us that we had to finish the book. Those were the last words we heard him say. We later realized that he had been battling his illness through much of our work on the comic, never complaining.
Keith had told us we had to finish the book. It was only half done. We had no heart for it. In the end, it meant starting again and redrawing the book from scratch with two wonderful professional artists, Ian Akin and Brian Garvey. Every page we went through was a reminder of a conversation we had had with Keith, a joke we had made, a crazy reference to pop culture, or film noir or music or law—because Keith was an artist, a legal scholar, and a hilarious culture-jammer. And each of those reminders was a sad one. It was a deeply painful task. Still, Keith had told us we had to finish the book. Those are the kinds of commands one does not disobey.
If Keith had written this dedication, it would be unsentimental, it would redirect all the praise to others and it would be darkly funny, because Keith had a very dark sense of humor where he was the subject. The last law review “article” he published was a comic with himself as a character. If one looks closely at the T-shirt the character is wearing, it says, “You can’t avoid the void.” Keith knew he was dying when he drew that. No one else did.
We published a book of quotes and drawings to remember Keith—Keith Aoki: Life as the Art of Kindness. You can find it elsewhere. We will not rehash it here except to say: we shall not look upon his like again. Would that the rest of us could be that kind, that modest, that creative.
We finished the comic for you, man. It took us long enough. Sorry about that. But you were terrible with deadlines too, just terrible. So perhaps you’ll cut us a break. You can’t avoid the void. But you can make something beautiful, funny and even maybe insightful that escapes it for a little while.
James Boyle & Jennifer Jenkins
Durham, NC. 2016