Of all the IP lawyers I know who are openly advocating for radical changes in the copyright system, William Patry is the only one who is not afraid to dig deep. Instead of founding his arguments upon novel interpretations of some obscure subparagraphs of legislative provisions or dictas in 18th century case law, Patry starts where any meaningful discussion about copyright should start – with the question why, why do we have copyright laws at all.
While I vehemently disagree with his conclusions and proposals, I have tremendous respect for Mr. Patry because, unlike most of those who agree with the substance of his proposals, he openly declares his goals and reasons, not hiding behind some illusory goal of pleasing everybody. It is an honour to have such an opponent in this philosophical debate.
William Patry has recently published his new book, “How to Fix Copyright”. In it he explains why today’s copyright laws make no sense, goes back to the foundations of copyright and asks the inevitable question why, offers an answer to that question and makes several proposals based on that answer.
Ironically, I tend to agree with most of what Patry wrote in his book. A great deal of it is nothing but brilliant and very useful. In fact, I wholeheartedly recommend it to both supporters of “stronger” copyright laws and destroyers of copyright.
As I mentioned, I disagree with Patry’s answer to the why question and, subsequently, to his proposals with respect to how copyright should be fixed. In this review, I will first briefly outline my fundamental disagreements with Mr. Patry and then illustrate them with examples from his book.
Big problems with Patry’s position
There are several big problems that I see in Patry’s position.
The most important one is that he believes that the reason for existence of copyright laws is to benefit the public the most. I have been saying this for years: copyright laws can only exist for one of two reasons: either they focus on protecting the interests of creators and investors while disregarding the potential consequences for the public; or they focus on protecting the interests of the public while providing to creators and investors the minimal level of protection required to ensure that the public has the most amount of new works to consume.
The idea of balancing these interests is insane, even though it became mainstream. I am well known for comparing it to an attempt to balance the interests of rapists and their victims in a single piece of legislation – it just doesn’t work that way… I will be returning to this metaphor throughout this article. If you feel offended, stop reading.
The reason I respect Patry’s position so much is that he understands that the balance model is nonsensical. The reason I disagree with Patry is that in this resulting dilemma between protecting the public or the creators, he sides with the public.
Patry is in fact advocating for the Soviet model of copyright law where creators had no control over the use of their works and were only entitled to “fair” remuneration. As I wrote in my article, “Copyright and the Great Socialist Degradation”, authors created many great works in the Soviet times. Lack of exclusive right to control the use of one’s works, as Patry rightly notices, does not necessarily cause authors to abstain from creating. The problem with this, of course, is, in the words of Ayn Rand, “the man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave”. By taking away from the copyright owners to right to decide on what terms their works are to be used by the public, we are essentially enslaving them.
Secondly, Patry correctly makes a distinction between what the laws are and what the laws should be (in hid opinion). He understands that in order to get to the a destination, one cannot rely on the laws as they are today. He is not afraid to offer suggestions that go beyond attempts to reinterpret the existing norms. Yes, somehow he draws support from old copyright laws, such as Statute of Anne, when it tends to benefit his position.
I have two issues with this approach. You cannot have it both ways. Either we disregard all existing and past laws in the search of the perfect solution, or we are bound by such existing and past laws. Relying on provisions of the 1710 act as the basis for one’s proposals in 2012 is no more genuine than claiming that whatever laws that are in existence today are the way they should remain for the next 300 years. On the other hand, one should not forget that the Statute of Anne was adopted in the pre-Adam Smith era of capitalism, when individual rights and freedoms meant little and when the laws were but a system of privileges granted to groups and individuals. To look to these laws for guidance as to the fundamental principles of today’s copyright is no more genuine than using slavery laws as the inspiration for today’s employment standards.
Thirdly, while Patry correctly states that law is not the solution to business problems, he at the same time advocates that the new laws he suggests will be a good way to force businesses to adopt “good” business models to replace the awful retrograde business models that copyright owners around the world currently use in reliance on the outdated copyright laws. Again, you cannot have it both ways.
You don’t fix broken business models by stealing from those who attempt to run them. Free markets do a much better job at educating those whose business models are antiquated. As I explained in my article “Failed Business Models of the Past, Eh?”, piracy distorts the markets and prevents businesses relying on traditional copyright models from properly evaluating their viability.
Fourthly, Patry’s proposals are based on the assumption that today’s laws somehow prevent businesses from adopting “good” business models. They don’t. Everyone is free to relinquish control over the use of their works, and many have done so. Just because someone is prepared to give up control does not mean that the right to control should be taken away from others by force. Just because someone may be willing to pay more in taxes does not mean that everybody else should be taxed more. Even is someone (even a great majority) is prepared to sacrifice their firstborns in the name of some “higher” purpose does not mean that those who do not should be forced to do the same.
These are the big points on which we disagree. Below, I will illustrate this with specific examples from Patry’s book.read more…
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Tags:Small BusinessNew Copyright ActFair DealingCollectivismPhilosophy