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Review: Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars by William Patry

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The content and technology businesses are at war, as is well-known and as I discuss in a recent article.
It’s a struggle that focuses on unauthorized file sharing and new
business models—in other words, a copyright war. Undeniably, the
entertainment industry often battles demand rather than trying to
satisfy it, and copyright laws have taken a corporate turn. Who better
to write about this conflict, one would think—and point the way to
solutions, one would hope—than an author with 27 years experience in
copyright law as a professor, practitioner and government attorney?

That
author is William Patry, who is now Google’s senior copyright counsel
(though he emphasizes that he’s writing to express his own views, not
Google’s). He says he’s in favor of “effective” copyright statutes, and
I opened his book hoping to learn what those might look like, since the
divergence of public behavior and existing copyright laws makes it
clear that something has to change. It’s an area of great interest to
me, not just personally, but also professionally, as my law practice at
TroyGould
focuses in large part on new media and, more generally, the
intersection of entertainment and technology. I was writing a review
for the Los Angeles Times, and I hoped I’d be able to write a positive one.

Alas,
not. What I found was a book riddled with invective, unoriginal
observations, and numerous typographical errors—about 200 typos at my
count, including twice referring to Martin Luther King’s most famous
oratory as the “I Had a Dream” speech (as though King had simply given
up) and inadvertently transmuting federal judge Richard Posner into
“Judge Richard,” perhaps positioning him for a gig on syndicated
television.

The
text is heavily footnoted, yet still marred by unsupported claims.
Thus, Patry says that imposing public-access easements on beachfront
houses doesn’t reduce their value. That’s doubtful, and he offers no
evidence. We’re told “orphan works” is a metaphor used to unjustifiably
protect certain kinds of works, but actually those using the term want
to loosen protection (a position I agree with, as does
Patry). Patry claims that declining CD sales are not related to
unauthorized file sharing, but offers neither discussion nor footnotes.
Moreover, the book is larded with unnecessary block quotes, among them
a half-page endnote analyzing the phrase “Tastes Like Chicken.”
Whatever the entrée, a sharper carving knife would have helped.

In
short, I was hoping for a significant contribution that would build on
previous work in this oft-discussed field. Instead, I found a deeply
flawed narrative that didn’t even acknowledge the existence of landmark
books in the area by such authors as Lawrence Lessig, Neil Netanel, William W. Fisher III, Jessica Litman, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Tarleton Gillespie, and James Boyle.
As I discuss in the LA Times piece, the book is not without some
virtues, but I was largely disappointed and surprised. You can read the
full review here, then come back and leave comments if you wish.

——————

Subscribe to my blog (jhandel.com) for more about entertainment law and digital media law. Go to the blog itself to subscribe via RSS or email. Or, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, or subscribe to my Huffington Post articles. If you work in tech, check out my book How to Write LOIs and Term Sheets. 

 

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