In a legal agreement, the fine print is rarely rewarding. Dense and dry, terms and conditions and copyright notices are often incomprehensible to the point of parody and absurd exegesis.
But the Penguin Random House imprint Riverhead Books is using its fine print to mount a clear and charming argument for the importance of protecting intellectual property.
“Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech and creates a vibrant culture,” reads the copyright notice for the book Romeo and/or Juliet, by cartoonist Ryan North. It also offers a few ”special words” in exchange for the reader’s attention:
North, the author of the popular Dinosaur Comics, writes in an email to Quartz that he didn’t think the dry copyright page really suited the tone of the book, which is a choose-your-own-adventure based on Shakespeare. So he suggested edits to his publisher.
“I think it’s important to put legalese in plain English wherever possible, because it gets around that fiction that we all read it and understand it, that when we click ‘I agree’ on [an End User License Agreement] we actually know what we’re agreeing to,” he writes.
Writer Gretchen McCulloch originally pointed out North’s copyright page on Twitter. As she notes, her tweet isn’t a violation of copyright; reproducing short snippets from a book to review it counts as fair use.
Riverhead released the book Tuesday (June 7).