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Ethan Heitner on Katz
posted March 13, 2012

Dear Tom (and Bart Beaty, who's contact information I could not find super-easily)

I'm curious how you think Art Spiegelman's decision to order copies of Katz destroyed (I am assuming it at the very least happened with his knowledge and consent, and that he could have vetoed it had he wanted to) for offending his idea of ownership squares with Spiegelman's full-throated defense of the decision to republished the infamous Muhammad cartoons (and indeed curate a republishing of them in Harper's).

I realize that copyright and moral rights are two difference concepts, legally and otherwise, but I believe Spiegelman was basically making the argument in the Muhammad case that "the only answer to speech you find offensive is more speech." Clearly no-one is going to confuse Katz for Maus, nor is the existence of Katz going to cause financial harm to Spiegelman or his publisher, which are I believe the usual legal justifications for censorship on copyright infringement claims.

Perhaps I am wrong and Spiegelman himself had nothing to do with the injunction, in which case I would definitely be curious to know whether he thinks it is necessary.

Ethan Heitner

PS -- my own take on the question raised by Katz is in my comic Old Abdullah Had a Farm wherein both Palestinians and Israelis are depicted as mice. My teacher at the time, Seth Tobocman, encouraged the idea of doing the comic, which started as a class assignment, as funny animals.

Tom Spurgeon Responds: I don't really have a nuanced view of this. I don't know anything about the applicable laws, and I haven't caught up with the writing by people that do. I don't really get the connection between the two cases as I understand either case, and I can't assume that Spiegelman made any decision about anything until I hear that he did. Mostly this strikes me as one of those things that people like to argue about with great passion on the Internet in a way where all sorts of other stuff creates a spillover effect. I also have a hard time understanding the "this will bankrupt us" argument for caving in to legal demands. I don't say that to mean "I understand it and I think the person is doing this and I think that's wrong," I mean literally don't understand how it works here. I don't know enough about the procedures involved to know if this is true, and if true, I don't know why someone would do a project that depends on another publisher agreeing with their point of view.

I forwarded to Bart.

Bart Beaty Responds: To the best of my knowledge, Art Spiegelman did not initiate these legal proceedings, am I not aware that he participated in them. The impetus seems to have come exclusively from Flammarion. As I noted in my review, I think it was a mistake to squash the circulation of this particular book, which is an interesting example of cultural appropriation.