Response to Cathay Y. N. Smith, Beware the Slender Man: Intellectual Property and Internet Folklore
Professor Cathay Smith’s Beware the Slender Man: Intellectual Property and Internet Folklore seems at first to fit comfortably within the creativity-without-IP literature, which shows that creative practices can thrive outside of the institutions built up around intellectual property law. But Professor Smith takes a different—and intriguing—tack to the phenomenon. She instead emphasizes a single site of creative expression: the development of the horror myth of the Slender Man. While we can draw lessons from this case as an instance of the wider field of Internet folklore, Professor Smith focuses on the granular details rather than the broader patterns. The resulting richly-textured description of one creative exercise reveals facets of its interaction (or not) with the legal system that can be difficult to see when scholars focus on generalities. In this brief response, I highlight how her approach reveals things that are otherwise obscured in some current debates about copyright law.
Professor Smith has identified a new specter to haunt copyright scholars. Her assessment of the scope of copyright protection in the Slender Man character, narratives, symbols, and larger mythology is crisp and clear. But, appropriately for this elusive horror villain, the story Professor Smith tells in Beware the Slender Man refuses to be pinned down precisely—her inquiry does more to complicate than resolve current debates about the relationship between copyright law and creative activity. Still, whatever conclusions we ultimately draw from her work, Professor Smith has made a significant contribution by identifying new terrain ripe for exploration by legal scholars. Read more.