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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Copyright law now protects failed business models more than innovation

William Patry, whom I quoted here just last week on copyright and the NIH policy, is laying down his influential copyright blog.  (Thanks to Glyn Moody.)  Patry is the Senior Copyright Counsel at Google and former copyright counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.  From his final post:

...The Current State of Copyright Law is too depressing....

I regard myself as a centrist. I believe very much that in proper doses copyright is essential for certain classes of works, especially commercial movies, commercial sound recordings, and commercial books, the core copyright industries. I accept that the level of proper doses will vary from person to person and that my recommended dose may be lower (or higher) than others. But in my view...we are well past the healthy dose stage and into the serious illness stage. Much like the U.S. economy, things are getting worse, not better. Copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners. Like Humpty-Dumpty, the copyright law we used to know can never be put back together again: multilateral and trade agreements have ensured that, and quite deliberately.

It is profoundly depressing, after 26 years full-time in a field I love, to be a constant voice of dissent....I have blogged about great articles others have written, or highlighted scholars who have not gotten the attention they deserve; I tried to find cases, even inconsequential ones, that I can fawn over. But after awhile, this wore thin, because the most important stories are too often ones that involve initiatives that are, in my opinion, seriously harmful to the public interest....Being so negative, while deserved on the merits, gives a distorted perspective of my centrist views, and is emotionally a downer....

I intend to spend my free time figuring out a constructive way to talk about the difficult issues we face and how to advance toward their solution.

Comment.  It's sad that we're losing this sane, sage voice on copyright law, and alarming that a copyright centrist would be so deeply depressed by the current state of the law and its continuing trajectory.  If you haven't paid much attention to the severe tilt of copyright law away from its traditional balance of interests toward maximalism, this should be a wake-up call.