Download Theft! A History of Music, a New Free Graphic Novel Exploring 2,000 Years of Musical Borrowing

From the team behind the 2006 fair use com­ic Bound by Law comes a new fair use com­ic, Theft! A His­to­ry of MusicCre­at­ed by James Boyle and Jen­nifer Jenk­ins, two law school profs from Duke Uni­ver­si­ty, Theft! A His­to­ry of Music is “a graph­ic nov­el lay­ing out a 2000-year long his­to­ry of musi­cal bor­row­ing from Pla­to to rap.” The book’s blurb adds:

This com­ic lays out 2000 years of musi­cal his­to­ry. … Again and again there have been attempts to police music; to restrict bor­row­ing and cul­tur­al cross-fer­til­iza­tion. But music builds on itself. To those who think that mash-ups and sam­pling start­ed with YouTube or the DJ’s turnta­bles, it might be shock­ing to find that musi­cians have been bor­row­ing – exten­sive­ly bor­row­ing – from each oth­er since music began. Then why try to stop that process? The rea­sons var­ied. Phi­los­o­phy, reli­gion, pol­i­tics, race – again and again, race – and law. And because music affects us so deeply, those strug­gles were pas­sion­ate ones. They still are.

The his­to­ry in this book runs from Pla­to to Blurred Lines and beyond. You will read about the Holy Roman Empire’s attempts to stan­dard­ize reli­gious music using the first great musi­cal tech­nol­o­gy (nota­tion) and the inevitable back­fire of that attempt. You will read about trou­ba­dours and church com­posers, swap­ping tunes (and remark­ably pro­fane lyrics), chang­ing both reli­gion and music in the process. You will see dia­tribes against jazz for cor­rupt­ing musi­cal cul­ture, against rock and roll for breach­ing the col­or-line. You will learn about the law­suits that, sur­pris­ing­ly, shaped rap. You will read the sto­ry of some of music’s icon­o­clasts – from Han­del and Beethoven to Robert John­son, Chuck Berry, Lit­tle Richard, Ray Charles, the British Inva­sion and Pub­lic Ene­my.

To under­stand this his­to­ry ful­ly, one has to roam wider still – into musi­cal tech­nolo­gies from nota­tion to the sam­ple deck, aes­thet­ics, the incen­tive sys­tems that got musi­cians paid, and law’s 250 year strug­gle to assim­i­late music, with­out destroy­ing it in the process. Would jazz, soul or rock and roll be legal if they were rein­vent­ed today? We are not sure. Which as you will read, is pro­found­ly wor­ry­ing because today, more than ever, we need the arts.

All of this makes up our sto­ry. It is assured­ly not the only his­to­ry of music. But it is def­i­nite­ly a part – and a fas­ci­nat­ing part – of that his­to­ry…

Released under a Cre­ative Com­mons license, the book is free to down­load online. Or you can buy a nice paper­back ver­sion on Ama­zon.

The video above offers anoth­er intro­duc­tion to the graph­ic nov­el. And you can read an inter­view with the authors over on the Cre­ative Com­mons web­site.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bound by Law?: Free Com­ic Book Explains How Copy­right Com­pli­cates Art

Down­load 15,000+ Free Gold­en Age Comics from the Dig­i­tal Com­ic Muse­um

Down­load Over 22,000 Gold­en & Sil­ver Age Com­ic Books from the Com­ic Book Plus Archive

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Pope Brock says:

    As a month­ly sup­port­er of Open Cul­ture I want to ask you a favor.
    Will you please, please stop link­ing to Ama­zon as the one and only place to buy books? Inde­pen­dent book­stores are strug­gling, even more so dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. This site should be doing every­thing it can to nour­ish and sus­tain them.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.