Comedy, Copyright, and a Virtual Symposium
Late last year the Virginia Law Review published a provocative and entertaining article by Dotan Oliar and Christopher Sprigman (both on the Virginia law faculty) on copyright law and the social norms of stand-up comics. There’s No Free Laugh (Anymore): The Emergence of Intellectual Property Norms and the Transformation of Stand-Up Comedy, 94 Va. L. Rev. 1787 (2008).
Earlier this Spring, the law review’s online supplement, In Brief, published a series of responses to that article, by me, Katherine Strandburg, Jennifer Rothman, and Henry Smith:
Jennifer E. Rothman, Custom, Comedy, and the Value of Dissent
Henry E. Smith, Does Equity Pass the Laugh Test?: A Response to Oliar and Sprigman
Katherine J. Strandburg, Who’s In the Club?: A Response to Oliar and Sprigman
Michael J. Madison, Of Coase and Comics, or, The Comedy of Copyright
And In Brief just published Oliar and Sprigman’s great response to all of the critiques, From Corn to Norms: How IP Entitlements Affect What Stand-Up Comedians Create.
The collection of pieces makes up an engaging virtual symposium on a topic that is simultaneously important (the relationship between law and social norms) and entertaining (how often do legal scholars get to dedicate professional energy to Lenny Bruce?).
This kind of extended public colloquy among scholars is among the best uses of the online supplements that many of the top law reviews have created. The “virtual symposium” could be even more effective if the elements of virtual symposia were collected (tagged, perhaps) and publicized as such (“Symposium on Law and Social Norms in Stand-Up Comedy”, or something like that) in both new and traditional electronic media (Westlaw, Lexis/Nexis, CILP, the law review websites themselves and their posts to this blog and others, SSRN, etc.)
That suggestion is directed to all those students, librarians, indexers, and bloggers who contribute to the ecology of online information about scholarship, and it comes from the perspective of the reader. Here’s a suggestion from the perspective of the author. If your piece is being pitched at a journal that hosts an online supplement, consider offering to partner with the student editors in soliciting critiques and responses, and designing an issue of the supplement that constitutes, in effect, a low-cost symposium on your work.