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Oregon Lawyer Online

Oregon Law Remembers Keith Aoki

Members of the Oregon Law community are remembering beloved former professor Keith Aoki. Professor Aoki passed away at his home in California on Tuesday, April 26, after a lengthy illness. He was 55.

Professor Aoki had a tremendous impact on Oregon Law and has left an important and meaningful legacy. In all that he pursued, colleagues and students alike remember Aoki for being brilliant, vibrant, and energetic. Aoki taught at Oregon Law from 1993 to 2007, earning the title Philip H. Knight University Professor in 2004. He specialized in intellectual property, civil rights, critical race theory, and local-government law. He was serving as a professor of law at the UC Davis School of Law at the time of his death.

In addition to his numerous contributions to the legal world, Aoki was an accomplished comic book author and cartoonist. He melded these two seemingly polar opposite disciplines into numerous comic book-style publications focusing on intellectual property issues. While at Oregon Law he published Bound by Law? Tales from the Public Domain, along with collaborators from Duke University, a comic that presented nearly everything anyone would need to know about documentary film, copyright, and fair use.

“I fell in love with Marvel comics when I was 7 or 8 years old. I went to the drugstore and found Spiderman and Fantastic Four, and I was hooked forever,” Aoki said in an April 2006 Register-Guard article. “We could have written a dry, boring legal article, but we wanted something that would reach other types of people.”

Aoki was also musically gifted and assembled The Garden Weasels, a law school faculty band that made numerous appearances at various law school functions, and for which numerous law school faculty, staff, and students had the opportunity to jam with at one time or another.

Aoki earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in fine art. In the mid-1980s, he decided to leave the art world and entered Harvard Law School. He earned his law degree in 1990 and practiced in Boston for two years before embarking in academia at Oregon Law.

In 2004, upon being named the sixteenth Knight Professor, Aoki noted in an Oregon Lawyer article, “I felt extremely lucky 10 years ago when Dave (Frohnmayer) hired me. Since then, I’ve tried to keep up my side of the bargain to be a good scholar and a good teacher.”

A trust will be set up for the provision of Aoki’s two nine-year-old daughters. Those who wish to contribute should send an e-mail pledge to Professor Steven Bender at sbender@uoregon.edu.

Oregon Law and the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics are planning a symposium and memorial to honor Aoki on Saturday, October 1. The event will feature tributes about the importance of his scholarship in copyright law, local government law and Asian-American jurisprudence. A special concert by The Garden Weasels will also take place. Additional details are forthcoming.

View Oregon Law’s “A Tribute to Keith Aoki,” including remembrances from alumni and administrators who were touched by Aoki’s kindness.

View the Chronicle of Higher Education’s in memoriam article on Aoki titled, “Law Professor’s Legacy Includes Comic Books on Intricacies of Copyright.”


Oregon Law » Oregon Lawyer Online » Summer 2011 » Oregon Law Remembers Keith Aoki