Copyright in the age of AI

I’m gonna preface all of this with I am NOT a lawyer, and copyright law, especially, is one where frequently the winner is the person in court with the most money. So below is largely my opinion…

Copyright isn’t a god given right – there’s no mention of it in the bible and humanity flourished specifically because it didn’t have IP laws of any sort for a long long time (someone had a good idea? we’d take it and build on it).

But it was really the invention of the printing press and the ability to mechanically copy materials that set up the start of what we come to know as copyright – the first true copyright laws are called the Statute of Anne (enacted in 1710) and set copyright as 14 years with a possible extension of 14 years by either the publisher who the materials were licensed to or the author.

Ostensibly the point was to ensure the copyright holder could make money for their material, for a limited time and they would be encouraged to produce new material.

Of course over time copyright has gotten longer and longer, and with some notable exceptions, authors will generally had that copyright over to a publisher so they are no longer the owners of the copyright and the publisher can get all the extended goodness of owning it. Different countries cover it in different ways, the UK mostly follows the US lead. The US lead mostly follows what Sonny (from Sonny and Cher) and the Disney corporation want (mad, isn’t it?).

The French, btw, are the most friendly to authors on this front – their droit d’auteur laws developed sort of in parallel to the UK laws prevent an author signing copyright over to anyone.

The US has a thing called Fair Use (in the UK our equivalent is called Fair Dealing), the idea being that as long as you only use a piece of the material (for example reproducing an image for review) that’s fine. There are other areas of exceptions (the UK allows you to use large amounts of material for research for non-profit – in theory how google uses it’s data, as it’s commercialised is outside of this, but we all used to find google useful so it’s been largely left alone, plus who could afford to fight them on this?).

AI companies are leaning on fair use and fair dealing for the bulk of what they do – swallowing up great gobs of copyright material and then regenerating something “new” from the result. Like chopping up every word in every book ever written and then mixing it with a user’s prompt to get a whole new set of words.

And there’s lots and lots of reasons why they might be right and they might be wrong – if the produced work doesn’t even have a faint echo of any of the material? If it was trained on out of copyright work? If the prompt was say much bigger than the generated output? And i’m sure there’s a whole bunch of other exceptions, and there’s so much money to be had on the AI front that companies will spend a fortune fighting you in court.

BUT, I think what we’ve all forgotten is what the point of copyright was in the first place – a way to give people the ability to earn a living from their creations.

On that front AI holds the keys to a much more dystopian world.

We’ve already started to see Ai’s trained on Ai output that amounts to gibberish, it still needs new inputs, but ai as it stands is likely to hollow out the middle or low ends of the creative industries. Students who would learn the basic craft of drawing might end up training on ai prompt generation and never actually learn good image composition, designers who would be expected to ply their trade on consumer advertising before they’d get a sniff of working at apple, might lose work/income because ai design software can do work that is just-good-enough. We’re in danger of an air lock in the plumbing of the creative industries.

Even without creative stuff AI tools can still be powerful (and useful) but I think governments have to recognise that they don’t want to hollow out the creative arts, and while ai fanboys can argue the bit out as to whether what they’re doing falls under copyright fair use or not, the fact remains it might be good for them, but it’s not good for creatives.

Time moves relentlessly on…

Like a big unrelenting thing. Eight days since the last update.

Let’s catch up, got a neat two pager to do for Monster Fun, with a tight deadline just before I went to Cheltenham (which meant I had to crush a bit the couple of days following to get it done for the 16th which was the deadline) full colour. Think it looks good, I’m a terrible judge of these things. Already feeling like my colouring box of tricks is way too limited.

Here’s a panel from it…


Editor liked it, so that’s good. Then spent a few days doing family stuff (lot of family stuff). One of the things with kids is, once they reach a certain age, they’re no longer yours to talk about – I used to talk about my kids all the time (on the blog and on social media) because they were delightful little wonders oblivious of most things but especially the internet (except for youtube videos) but now they’re 18 and 15 and as much as I’d love to share stuff about them, stuff I’m proud of, concerned about or just generally parent things, I just can’t. That stuff is theirs. But know I love them, and know that there’s often lots to talk about and I just can’t.

Have finally begun another Devlin Waugh strip, six parter. No deadlines, suspect it’ll not get scheduled for some time. For some artists this is great, for me, it’s a curse. I know if I attacked it the way I normally attack work I’d get it finished in a fortnight, but instead it’s taken me a fortnight to even open the script … because … no deadlines.

On the writing front, I haven’t really had a chance to open the script again on the WHITE RABBIT story. And again self doubt kicks in and I think, really Paul, this is the story you’re going to spend your precious time on earth drawing, something no-one will likely read, you’ll not likely enjoy (not nearly enough monsters) and something that no-one is paying you for? SHUT UP INNER MONOLOGUE.

As a side note, do you inner monologue? I do a lot. Turns out not every one does. Even as I type this I hear it in my own voice in my head. And if I pause to think of the wording, I’ll hear it in my head. Apparently not as common as I thought. (Also: I will have full on dialogues with other people – as I imagine they would react – play out in my head. Honestly a bit of a curse, because you know this isn’t necessarily what they’d say/how they’d really react, so you play through all sorts of permutations. And it’s always been like this. Voices in my head, but not the mad kind, probably)

I’ve most of the next issue of A4 written. Trying desperately to write something that doesn’t end with death is hard though. (It’s been pointed out, correctly, that these stories are all debbie downers… truth is I’m not sure I know how to write anything else? but I should try) There’s six stories so far and I did have a seventh which might be funny, but it turns out I’ve forgotten it. As soon as I think of one of these shorts I write them in the notes app on the iphone and then get on with things, safe in the knowledge it’s there. Sometimes I take a while to do that, then other thoughts pop up and *pff* gone. This one has gone *pff* (And I bet it wasn’t that funny)

Enjoy this Man-Thing Interlude (drawn in procreate)

Been chatting to Alec Worley (lovely bloke, comic writer, his newsletter is here) and he’s been bullying me into moving over to substack. (I have a substack account but only use it for reading). He reckons it’s where the audience will be.

To be honest, I’m sort of fed up with all social media. It’s so balkanised now, I can’t auto post from the blog to twitter, or blusky (but can to mastodon, which I’ve otherwise sort of left fallow). There’s threads where I’m on but not. Instagram which I have but never really upkeep and half a dozen others I’ve forgotten. My patreon still exists but I’m a ghost on there now. (Though I do appreciate those people who may be seeing me in other places and putting money in to my patreon, believe me, it may not seem much but it helps!)

In the battle-with-my-ego front, enough good quality writers have said words to the effect of “but you’re writing is really good” that I’m starting to think there might be something in that. Or at least I might try and stop shying away from the title of writer. I’m really not comfortable with the title (I’m a comic artist who sometimes makes comics that don’t have writers attached … or I sometimes jot down ideas for stories that I never, ever finish) these are things I need to fix, though I’m not sure how that would happen, maybe writing something that is purely prose? or writing something for another artist? I dunno. It’s an interesting data point for now.

I will say I feel my career as a comic artist has been taken as far as it can really go (which I think I’ve said before, isn’t really a bad thing, I don’t mean “and I give up” I mean “well, I’m never gonna be the hot artist, the in demand artist, the first guy on your rolodex or the guy you know will shift the needle, but I WILL be the guy you phone cus the other guy dropped out and man alive this deadline is tight” and honestly, being the hot-artist is a fractionally tiny part of the industry, there’s not many hot artists. I did wistfully want to be an artists-artist. But I’ll settle for being the editors-artist.

Maybe writing stuff will allow me to move the needle in some other ways. I dunno.

Again, my mood is a little darker than usual, I’ll grant you.

Funky Pencil Monkey

Spent a couple of days in a bit of a funk. The world is just … ugh. My mood has been dark (which, all jokes aside, I partially put down to binging Walking Dead which finally got to Neagan, a character I despised so much on first contact, and the grim never ending awfulness of what the characters are going through that it genuinely has effected my mood, so I’ve put it away – no thanks, not watching that) have turned instead to the delights of Gone Fishing.

I’m in a fairly privileged position (in that I’m in a part of the world that is relatively stable, and safe) and so have decided I can’t watch the news at the moment either – things are too grim and it’s impacting how I think about stuff. I don’t remember when things felt this oppressive (plus the comic industry seems to be going through one of its cyclical crunches where there’s more published work than there are readers, and more talented comic book creators than there are jobs for them)

There’s a guy in fixing my gas (big bill I could do well without) and he’s working in my studio room. So I’ve decided to blow the cobwebs off a script idea I had a few years ago (oh god, just after me and Declan did “M” for Dynamite, in 2017) and start polishing it up with a view to drawing it myself as a commando digest sized comic.

Well, strictly speaking I’ll be drawing it A5, and printing either A5 or some reduction of same.

I wrote a fairly detailed treatment of it, and then I rewrote and rewrote it. It was a James Bond pitch originally, and I’ve turned it into “John Regent” a Bond like MI6 Secret Assassin.

Honestly it came about because in our book M, Bond’s boss – a former british soldier – returns to Belfast, and I thought “Oh, man… if James Bond came to Belfast … he could get stuck in an Orange Parade!” because Bond surrounded by a load of guys in Bowler hats marching to a band while he’s being hunted by OddJob is very very funny.

Of course, what often happens between inception and treatment/scripting is the original idea gets lost as you build your plot. So ultimately, that didn’t make it.

Anyway, I have a detailed treatment (no page numbers, just plot happenings) and 64 pages to do it in. So I’ve been trying to work out how long each section should be and man, 64 pages seems like a lot, but every page is only 1 – 2 panels. So you’re really cutting it up a lot. But that’s ok. Because the treatment basically breaks down into Prologue (it’s James Bond! gotta have the bond bit at the start!) Act 1, Act 2, Act 3 and Epilogue I’ve sort of picked arbitary points for these things to break down, that’s when you really start to feel it.

BUT – I’ve adapted tweets into comics, so taking this treatment and going, well, these words have fill 8 pages – beginning on a splash and ending on a splash, giving me roughly 12 panels to tell that part of the story isn’t impossible.

Plus, to be honest, I’m trying not to get bogged down on “what if this is rubbish?” so what. Then it’s rubbish. I don’t think it will be, I think it’ll be not-as-good-as-I-want-it-to-be, which has the same effect as “what if it’s rubbish?” and that effect is to stop you even trying.

So I’m ignoring that instinct and I’m going to write it in to pages, and then draw the damn thing as fast as is humanly possible. And then, if I get that far try and kickstart the beast (I won’t be after big numbers, just enough to get it printed)

But the kickstarter is a long way off, and honestly, I’m doing this because right now, my workload is very very light, and that’s not a terribly comfortable place to be for me. I’d rather have way too much work on.

Sent to kill the super hacker codenamed “White Rabbit” MI6 Assassin JOHN REGENT discovers that she is, in fact, an 11 year old non verbal autistic child. Mission aborted, REGENT and the girl are attacked. Betrayed, REGENT has to go on the run with the girl and her mother to find answers, and to discover just exactly how far down the rabbit hole this goes.

“White Rabbit”

A4 Issue Two!


Issue 2 of PJ Holden’s A4 – a free micro fiction ‘zine. This issue contains the stories: Death Awaits, Love at its Core, Body-Fu, Tok Tik, A Reflection of You, The Shimmering Tower and Command

Download the PDF 

A4 Issue Two

A4 Issue 1 July 2022

Hey! Look, I did it! A proper issue 1 of my A4 ‘zine, A4!

Most of these stories were written in a flurry of activity after I’d finished the zero issue – itself more a test of concept than anything else. To my surprise we’ve had a decent number of downloads (around 400+ I say that because I only thought to add a download counter sometime after doing it, so there’s a good chance it’s closer to 500+)

Anyway, if you’re interested, here’s the download for issue 1:

A4 Issue One

Some backmatter! These are spoilers for most of the stories, so I’m going to age break for you right here and the rest is continued on the next page!

Film Night!

So, I did the first class – a sort of introductory who-we-are-and-what-our-favourite-films-are, two hour thing.

(For the record, I said my favourite film is The Big Lebowski – which I think it is, probably the film I’ve seen the most, and has bits that make me laugh, though honestly the reason I’m doing a course on short film making is I love things like Inside No 9, Black Mirror and… you know … 2000ad)

The plan is everyone who wants to can pitch an idea and then Larry (who’s running the thing) will pick one (based, more on how well it’ll use everyone’s abilities, as much as the quality of the idea/script)

It’s weird introducing yourself in a group – especially one where odds are you’ll find a comic fan – or at least someone who knows you (Belfast is a small place anyway, so – as was the case here – Larry had heard of me, but from people saying “there’s a guy who lives [redacted] who writes* for 2000ad” (*these things are always a bit garbled)

So last night I sat and had a think and came up with about five ideas for shorts, I dunno if any will get past tomorrow, and they’re all a little nebulous, but here they are:


Outside a community centre a husband and wife talk about their past, and their future, and how this tango class is a first step in a new future for him. As he walks haltingly towards the door, we see a sign for the tango night – “Singles Tango Night – widowers welcome” and he turns and says goodbye to his wife, who vanishes.

The Pass

Spide and Jaunty are two not-so-bright belfast hoods who need some money for weed, and decide to mug the first person to come down the back street they’re in. That first person, it turns out… is Gandalf.

There’s a confrontation – Gandalf gets the better of the two idiots and escapes, but as he does so, he drops his pipe.

Spide is disappointed, they got nothing. “‘er, you think he was… you know, Magic…?” Jaunty, drawing from the pipe and in a smokey weed induced haze – “I dunno about him, but this is fucking magic”

The Ticket

A traffic warden and a badly parked driver face off, as the warden is about to place a ticket on the car and the man knows if he can get to the door he can claim he was just leaving. No dialogue and filmed like a spaghetti western, including tumbling crisp packets and close up of sweaty eyes.

Working Stiff

An office style docudrama as a husband and wife are interviewed about their typical day. The husband though, is a monosyllabic zombie. “Oh well, day to day there’s not much difference from before, I mean he’s still mostly in the way, though he is a LOT better with the dog and to be honest his personal hygene isn’t what it was… ” “And your … love life” “Oh, well, now … that IS different… I mean… now he’s always … ” [end credits]

White Rabbit

I wrote the story for this shortly after doing M for Dynamite with Declan Shalvey (2018), I was convinced it was a good story with some fun plot twists and a start sequence that would be great for James Bond (but later a quick rewrite and John Regent was born) and including stuff that felt like it was on the cusp of breaking into mainstream attention (white power groups, russian spies, hackers, betrayal, incels and more)

Anyway. I took the treatment and ran it through Chat GPT to see if it could write an exciting synopsis and crikey, it’s very good at that…

Here’s the blurb:

Get ready for a thrilling, 64-page graphic novella about REGENT, a skilled assassin tasked with taking out a notorious hacker known as the “White Rabbit.” But as REGENT soon discovers, the “White Rabbit” is actually a young, nonverbal autistic girl named ALICE. Betrayed and on the run with ALICE and her mother GABRIELA, REGENT must unravel a web of deceit and danger that stretches from London to Athens. As they’re pursued by ruthless terrorists and uncover the truth about ALICE’s computer, REGENT forms a deep bond with the young girl and fights to protect her at all costs. Meanwhile, a shocking revelation about REGENT’s own employer threatens to turn his world upside down. Can REGENT bring down the mastermind behind it all and emerge victorious, or will he be dragged down the rabbit hole for good?

Job Description: A short story.

One of those days where I forget that “Top Class Twitter Banter” isn’t part of my job description.


You’ve actually written yourself a job description?


Had to, it was literally the only thing in my job description “Can write Job Descriptions”