Friday, October 30, 2009

Book Review: 'Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars' by William Patry; LA Times, 10/23/09

Book Review: 'Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars' by William Patry; Reviewed by Jonathan Handel; LA Times:

"Into this copyright war walks William Patry. Extraordinarily well-credentialed, Patry has been a copyright lawyer for 27 years as a professor, practitioner and government attorney. Currently, he's Google's senior copyright counsel. Though Patry says he's in favor of "effective" copyright protection, he writes that "bad business models, failed economic ideologies, and acceptance of inapposite metaphors have led to an unjustified expansion" of those laws.

Patry's stature makes "Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars" an "important" book. Unfortunately, what the book delivers is a choppy and directionless narrative, sometimes illuminating but too often scattershot, unoriginal and strident. Unsupported claims abound...

This presentation is informative, but it's marred by Patry's habit of presenting arguments as though he were the first to devise them. An example is his claim that entertainment companies attack file sharing instead of innovating: Books by Lawrence Lessig, Tarleton Gillespie and others have made similar arguments more effectively. Patry discusses few of these works and adds little.

In fact, Patry has nothing good to say about copyright law. What do "effective" copyright laws look like? Read his book and you still won't know. The Constitution offers a hint: Copyright is intended to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts." Various scholars interpret that to mean a delicate balance of rights. Of course, the devil is in the details, but Patry offers none...

The author all but celebrates illegal file sharing, but would he be so sanguine if his own company's intellectual property -- its computer source code -- were shared in this fashion? One might imagine that what's good for the goose is good for the Google, but it's more likely the company would sue. Indeed, the entire technology industry is built on copyrights, patents and trade secrets, backed up by tough contracts and tougher lawyers. (By the way, Patry advocated copyright reform years before joining Google and says the book should not be interpreted as reflecting the views of his current employer.)

Certainly it's untenable for entertainment companies and copyright law itself to remain at war with millions of citizens. For better and worse, technology has unleashed new norms, and some accommodation must be found. Unfortunately, this book sheds little light on how that should happen.",0,6896339.story

1 comment:

William Patry said...

How unfortunate that for a blog about copyright and fair use, you chose simply to copy someone else's review and not do any transformative work or read the book yourself. Here at least is my comment on Mr. Handel's review:

"Mr. Handel simply doesn't like my positions and can't accept that others disagree with him. Here is an excerpt from an email from another LA lawyer who read his earlier review and was disgusted by it.

[H]e did not read your book. He dipped and skimmed. He looked for material he could distort by lifting it out of context. Any hack can do that. He missed the substance of the arguments. I don't think he wanted to read and absorb the book. I have been reading it as any serious reader would, and it merits a slow careful read because it prompts the reader to pause, think, consider, and
resume reading. ...

Others trying to build their reputations are eventually tempted to take short-cuts. And the Internet and its publication standards (which have diminished what newspapers use as standards) invite a host of lawyers and others seeking a quick "kill" to give their name circulation, and make them into instant celebrities. As a result, the greater a genuine author's reputation ... -- the more he or she will become a target for a critic who wants to build a reputation by throwing stones, mud, slop, excrement, whatever it takes to get noticed for taking a fine person's reputation down a peg.

I think that was critic Handel's agenda. And most readers possessed of a sober and animated intelligence will see what he attempted and what he did. It's not a credible review,
and readers will know it."

As this comment reveals, the Copyright Wars are bitterly partisan and far too few on one side are willing to take the time to read those with opposing views. Instead, we have hatchet jobs like those of Mr. Handel and Thomas Syndor: personal attacks on other authors masquerading as reviews.

It is also a sad comment on the state of the blog writing that so many blogs do no independent work and thus add no value at all.