CBLDF Wins 2010 Downs Intellectual Freedom Award

For their dedication to the preservation of First Amendment rights for members of the comics community, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) has been selected to receive the 2010 Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award given by the faculty of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

It is often taken for granted that the expressive freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment apply to all works of art and authorship, and that the protections accorded to texts, images, and musical compositions aren’t limited to specific genres or expressive media. But a review of problems faced over the last two decades by creators of comic books, graphic novels, and games doesn’t bear out this common-sense expectation.

The CBLDF is being honored for their consistent dedication to the active defense of First Amendment rights. Highlights of their recent work include:

* In 1991, the CBLDF helped comic artist Paul Marvides successfully challenge a California State Board of Equalization decision to levy sales tax on comic strip art. At issue was whether comic book pages qualified as original manuscripts and therefore exempt from tax, or as mere commodities rather than creative works.

* In 2000, CBLDF helped fund the defense of comic book artist Kieron Dwyer against a copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit brought by the Starbucks Corporation. Dwyer was forced to settle out of court on the trademark infringement, but the case established that satire is protected speech.

* From 2004 to 2007, CBLDF supported the legal defense of Gordon Lee, a comic book shop owner in Georgia, who was prosecuted for distributing sexually explicit materials to minors (he gave away copies of an excerpt from The Salon, a graphic novel about Picasso and others in 1920’s Paris). After two trials, a judge declared a mistrial.

* In 2006, the CBLDF issued a letter supporting the retention of Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” (a Time Magazine book of the year) and Craig Marshall’s “Blankets,” which were the subjects of reconsideration by the Marshall (MO) Public Library after a patron complained they were pornographic.

* In 2010, CBLDF joined with the American Booksellers Association and other groups to challenge a new Massachusetts law that holds website operators or anyone communicating through listservs criminally liable for any transmission deemed harmful to minors. Also in 2010, CBLDF joined with the Alaska Library Association and other groups to challenge a new Alaska law similar to the Massachusetts law described above.

* CBLDF filed a brief in 2010 supporting the video game industry in the case of Schwarzenegger v. EMA, heard this fall before the US Supreme Court: in this case, California seeks to ban the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

The 2010 Downs Intellectual Freedom Award will be presented to the CBLDF during the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association in San Diego, California, on January 8, 2011, from 5:45 to 7:15 p.m. in Room 11A of the San Diego Convention Center. ABC-CLIO, a publisher of reference, contemporary thought, and professional development resources, provides an honorarium for the recipient and co-sponsors the reception. Please check the location of the reception and the award presentation in the ALA Midwinter Conference Program in case of any changes in location.

The Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award is given annually to acknowledge individuals or groups who have furthered the cause of intellectual freedom, particularly as it affects libraries and information centers and the dissemination of ideas. Granted to those who have resisted censorship or efforts to abridge the freedom of individuals to read or view materials of their choice, the award may be in recognition of a particular action or long-term interest in, and dedication to, the cause of intellectual freedom. The award was established in 1969 by the GSLIS faculty to honor Robert Downs, a champion of intellectual freedom, on his twenty-fifth anniversary as  director of the school.

Additional information about the award and past recipients can be found at www.lis.illinois.edu/about-gslis/awards/downs-award.


Consistently named one of the top library and information science programs in the nation, the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, founded in 1893 at the Armour Institute in Chicago, maintains a reputation of excellence and innovation. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was founded in 1867 and is regularly cited among leading universities in the United States.