Bob Levin,
The Pirates & the Mouse:
Disney's War Against the Counterculture

(Fantagraphics, 2003)

The Pirates & the Mouse is a hilarious and candid inside look at one of the longest-running copyright infringement wars of the 20th century -- likely to be known throughout history as thecopyright war of that century. It is the story of the Walt Disney Corp. and a group of college comic satirists, calling themselves the Air Pirates, and their war over Mickey Mouse and the American culture.

It is absolutely absurd that a group of college students could engage such a large entity as Walt Disney, go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and back into the lower courts, and still manage to find loopholes that allow them to continue being the thorn in their opponent's side. It is even more ludicrous when you consider that every bit of this came about because the ringleader of the group, Dan O'Neill, was fired from his position for producing work that was too risque for the time.

This book is packed with the legal tidbits about copyright infringement during the 1970s, such as when a group of Catholic priests became outraged over the production of Jesus Christ, Superstar. They altered the production to present a Christian view and presented it on stage. They maintained that they were entitled to do this under the First Amendment, but that did not hold up in court. So the book tells as much about the culture of the time as the legality of the copyright issue.

Levin has included an extreme amount of footnoting throughout this book, often of a personal and witty type that will have you rolling with laughter as he "loosely translates" what was said or what they really meant. His personality comes shining through in these little tidbits, which sometimes take up half the page.

As a story for reading simply for entertainment's sake, you cannot beat this one. It will make you laugh, shake your head in disbelief and smile with the warm memories of the '70s -- or perhaps just drop your jaw in disbelief if you are too young to have memories of those turbulent years.

The ultimately hilarious thing about this book is that it has a 44-page center section containing photographs, full-color copies of covers of the Air Pirates Funnies and sections of their comics. Note that these are the very comics that sparked this long, drawn-out war to stop their publication. Isn't it always good to let the public know what all the hoopla was about by publishing the copyrighted material in question? If you missed the original comics, here is your chance to own a copy.

Bob Levin is an attorney who specialized in workmen's compensation cases, but fell into writing about the artists of the comic underground and their contributions to American culture in the last half of the 20th century. He has also written Fully Armed: The Story of Jimmy Don Polk and The Best Ride to New York.

The Pirates & the Mouse is a great book for any person with an interest in copyright infringement, especially in the state of California. This book should be incorporated into the mass communications training at colleges throughout the country. While Levin's writing style and overwhelming number of footnotes may alienate a few readers, it is still a sound book for learning about the interpretation of the laws pertaining to copyright. It is also an amusing story from beginning to end about how a few hungry artists can drive a huge entity like Walt Disney totally crazy.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 7 February 2004

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