Fair Use Week!

Hey folks, apparently this week is Fair Use Week! Appropriate, right? In honor of this event, I want to share something I’ve had kicking around in my drafts folder waiting for context.

First, here are some scans from the book Stolen Sharpie RevolutionThis book is mostly a how-to guide for the world of zines. It covers creating, designing, printing, and distributing zines. If you don’t know what a zine is, YIKES. You definitely should, because they are amazing.

Strongly (although not exclusively!) affiliated with punk scenes in the late 80s and early 90s, zines were* handmade and photocopied mini magazines usually distributed for free or at cost ($1-$3) at shows and parties, or collected and sold/distributed by zine distros. One of the most important features of zines was that pretty much anyone with access to a copy machine could make them; they were usually handwritten and drawn and/or involved LITERAL cutting and pasting from other sources (with actual scissors and glue). The egalitarian publishing ethic and the use of materials clipped from other sources make zines and zine culture very relevant to digital writing today, as zine makers were dealing with issues of fair use and independent multimedia publishing long before the internet brought those concerns to much wider publishing platforms. You can see on the first page of Stolen Sharpie Revolution that the copyright information is actually copyLEFT information.

ssr4 (1)


Here’s the rest of that intro if you want to read more about what Stolen Sharpie Revolution is all about:

ssr3 (2)

Finally, here’s Stolen Sharpie Revolution‘s take on copyright and fair use as they apply to zine production.

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So do the fair use and copyright concerns of zine makers translate directly to digital media? No. As you can see above, zines usually had pretty small runs and circulated primarily within local music and art scenes. Even the most popular zines sold through distros didn’t ever actually produce that many copies, nothing compared to more professional independent publishing options today, and certainly not comparable to the almost infinite and unpredictable audience possibilities of online publishing. But I think by asking the right questions, and by experimenting and occasionally ignoring the consequences, zine culture has done a lot to pave the way for creative digital publishing, and is worth a good long look as we start to think about what we can really do with digital media and where our boundaries are (as well as where they aren’t).


*An important note: I am generally referring to zines in the past tense here because I am particularly referencing the fact that zine-making began before internet publishing was possible. But zines aren’t dead! People are absolutely still making and distributing amazing zines. In fact, zine-making could be a great way to address issues of multimodal composition, fair use, and real-world publishing in a classroom setting that doesn’t have the tech resources to do digital media composition. Multimodal doesn’t have to be digital!!! Here’s a list of resources for places you can find zines and zine info (in addition to the Stolen Sharpie Revolution page, which has a TON of great links and info):

Papercut Zine Library (located in Allston!)

Boston Zine Fest

A/K Press

Doris Distro

Microcosm Publishing


Stranger Danger Zine Distro

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