Copyright and trademark laws are intended to protect the creative work and symbols that permeate our culture, from Mickey Mouse to McDonalds. But a graphic artist invited to NYU Law in late September asks whether they inadvertently create an economy that hinders original work.

Jörg Tittel (right) and Christopher SprigmanIn “­Copyright vs. Creativity: Is Intellectual Property Reserved for the 1%?” Jörg Tittel, author of the graphic novel Rickey Rouse Has a Gun made a bold declaration: “I’m worried about us, in the West, ripping ourselves off.” Joined by Charles Brownstein, executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and professors Christopher Sprigman and Barton Beebe, Tittel went on to explain his concerns with the lack of creativity in American culture. “[I’m] not just worried about creatives getting their ideas stolen, but more importantly having 20th century ideas reheated ad infinitum to a point where they are losing all of their ‘culturally nutritional value’.” Tittel believes this lack of originality could be based on two issues: Hollywood’s fear of losing money to piracy and new ideas and Hollywood’s need to commercially appeal to the rest of the world, which sequels and prequels guarantee. “[Hollywood thinks] it is much better to avoid losing more cash by making something that is recognizable, rather than creating an original idea that is likely to fail. As long as piracy exists, Hollywood feels legitimized to make more and more sequels because supposedly it’s risk adverse,” Tittel said. But Tittel believes this fear puts creative expression in dangerous territory. “The more we create prequels, sequels, and remakes, the less the newer generations will take our creative input seriously and they will also feel inclined to download it or pirate it for free because it’s just a branded product. It’s essentially advertisement and why should we pay for advertisement?” Tittel said.

In Tittel’s graphic novel, Richard Rouse, a war deserter in the US military, moves to China and begins working at a knockoff Disney theme park. Aside from providing humorous anecdotal commentary about the knockoff version of the famous mouse, the novel opens the discussion about creative original works and if they are upheld or diminished by current copyright and trademark laws. Tittel doesn’t criticize the knockoff theme park and famous mouse in his graphic novel; rather, he encourages creative expression in the form of brand appropriation and criticism. This, he hopes, may break the cycle of sequels and strengthen creative exploration. “Culturally, in the West, we are like a snake eating its own tail, and if we continue doing that, we will become insignificant,” said Tittel.

Posted November 18, 2014

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