Why I Went to Law School

So let me give a little insight into the “why” of how so many artists are starving, struggling, or otherwise not living their art. I found out the hard way to the tune of 8 years of my life and a mountain of student debt, so maybe this can spare you the trouble…

You see, I’m an artist. A genre-fiction novelist, to be exact, and I finished the first draft of my very first novel when I was seventeen and still in high school.Great! I thought. I’ll go to a school of higher education with an international reputation for writing and dedicate myself to turning my draft into a manuscript.Or maybe it was… I need to go to college to get a degree so I can get a Real Job, and while I’m there I’ll find an academic community that can help me become a better writer in the process. (No, really. I think like that…) Thus began my pursuit.

Four years later, a few things had happened. First and foremost, I have a half finished manuscript that is “unique” and “creative”. This is not a good thing. I discovered the hard way that The University of Iowa does indeed have an amazing community of writers, but those writers have no idea what to do with a girl with a Fantasy novel in her head. It’s just too much for the beatnik poets and pulp fiction teachers. For those of you who aren’t writers, it’s pretty much a death sentence to be told by a group of creative semi-professionals that your genre fiction work is “creative”. Of course it’s creative – it’s bloody fantasy. In my genre, the entire world has come directly out of my ass and has some subtle reflections of our own world. Big surprise! (Well, it was for them…) Safe to say the first point was an incredible let down. I did, however, turn my first draft into a half finish manuscript in four years. Nicole:1, World:0.

Otherwise, I managed to pull off what I justified as “research for my novel”. I wanted to learn anything and everything I could to make the world in my head an authentic representation of a medieval world. The first thing I got was my English BA while only taking two classes before the 1500s (Milton and Shakespeare) and the second was… well, something of a let down. I ended up two semester hours away from having my Latin Degree. They took it away two weeks before I graduated because they belatedly decided that I wouldn’t be grandfathered in to the new degree program. Fuckers. Instead I left Iowa with a Latin minor, an Ancient Civilizations minor, and a Certificate in Medieval Studies. Still incredibly useful for my book – not so useful for my Real Job pursuits. The idea was to find a publishing house that would take me in as an admin or an assistant editor and enjoy my life in publishing as I worked to publish my own things. I wanted to help other artists if it was the end of me.

Well, while while simultaneously scrambling to find that dream job post-graduation and finish my manuscript, a good friend of mine went to Cornell Law. To make a long story short, my dream of finding work in a publishing house working with other artists for a living quickly turned into an epiphany about how instead of working for people who had no idea what my own art form was about (again with the “fantasy” is “unique” bullshit), I would go to law school too and study copyright law. Then I could educated myself on my rights, and be able to help other artists understand as well. For a living. What a great idea!

$200k later… This is the crux of what I have learned, and the root of all of my Copy-rage (as I lovingly refer to it):

Whenever normal people talk about the Copyright Law, love it or leave it, they talk about rights. Do artists have the right to control their work? Do companies have the right to sue children for sharing files? Do people have the right to do with media what they please? (And most importantly) Do I really give a fuck? If I can get the shit for free, am I really gonna pay?

These are all yes and no answers, and depending on your point of view, some shades of grey.

What they don’t talk about is why people make art in the first place. The Supreme Court determined a long, long time ago, that as far as the law is concerned, the only reason people will make art (especially the kind that can be sold to entertain folks) is because they can in fact turn a profit. Not, as I naively believed all the way through my formative years, because they can’t not make the art.

You see, that was my problem. All through high school I sat in a class room with my laptop (we had a learning-with-laptops program, thank you formative alumni Melinda Gates) and managed somehow to simultaneously pull off a B-average in my classes while I created the vibrant self expression that turned me into who I am today. Everything I saw and experienced had to pass through, consciously or sub consciously, the lens of the fantasy world that existed inside my head. Writing was something that became as natural as breathing to me. The more I did it, the stronger I became as a person, until it finally grew to consume me. Moments of day dreaming took on shape and form in my mind when I was seduced by an image or a phrase, like a hook in a song, until I Had To Write It Down. Because if I didn’t, it wouldn’t get out of my head, and those notes I was taking would never get written… I’m really surprised I managed to get a B average, honestly.

The point I’m trying to make, though, is that none of this mattered to my law professors – and that fact was anathema to everything I had ever felt as an artist. I was speechless. As the law sees it, there is nothing significant and worthy of protection about creative self expression unless that something is considered is “useful “*. Well it was bloody well useful for me to get those scenes out of my head so I could concentrate. It wasn’t, however, useful enough to warrant legal protection. That would take someone else thinking it was either good enough for me to get published publish, or good enough for someone to want to steal it and publish it themselves.

This fact infuriates me. I’m not going to STOP writing just because I may never get published, but you’re going to protect my works in case some guy wants to make money off of my writing? Sorry, Some Guy, you’re not the reason for the equation. I am, and my art is, and that’s what’s wrong with the copyright system.

So, yeah. That’s why I went to law school, and as far as I can tell, the system we have right now works by graciously bequeathing upon us starving artists a structure in which we can have our blood, sweat, and tears worthy of protecting.

Again, this fact infuriates me.

The system that we need, given the sometimes sacred nature of an artists self expression, has to value the art for arts sake (“ars gratia artis”) – and build a structure so that it is the appreciation of that art that fuels the system that mass markets it, and not the other way around. That “other way around” is likely to be the inspiration for most of the bitching — ah, blogging — that will happen here. Because now that I’m an attorney, I don’t have to sit idly by.

I can actually do something about it, one artist at a time.

Pax,
– Your Ally, Esq.

*”useful” comes from: Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, of the US Constitution – also known as the Copyright Clause, which reads: “The Congress shall have Power [. . .] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” (emphasis added)

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