The prolific and respected Bill Patry, who managed to author a terrific copyright treatise (complete with its own blog) while holding down one of the most desirable law-and-tech jobs in existence, has announced the closing of his copyright blog. (More at technorati).
It would have been unfortunate, but not really newsworthy, if the explanation was just, “sorry, everybody, I’m too busy” — maintaining a seven-volume treatise while representing a client with more than its share of high-profile copyright issues (to say nothing of spending the occasional moment with one’s family) would fill up anybody’s schedule. So it’s kind of heartbreaking to see that this wasn’t actually the reason at all. Instead, Patry is (1) tired of people misattributing his personal views to his employer, (2) tired in general of dealing with asshats; and (3) profoundly dispirited at the current, and foreseeable future, state of copyright law. It’s that last item that’s the most unfortunate:
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.
Patry’s views are those that passed for middle-of-the-road a couple of decades ago. But copyright, like many other bodies of law, has lurched rightward over the last generation. Ideas that would have met with justified derision in the 1970s and 1980s became statutory law in the 1990s and landmark Supreme Court decisions in the 2000s. Ideas that were once mainstream, like protecting the public domain, have been increasingly portrayed as radical. A few years back, Jonathan Zittrain said, “The notion that intellectual property rights should never expire, and works never enter the public domain — this is the truly fanatical and unconstitutional position.” Yet several members of Congress debating the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act embraced precisely that “fanatical and unconstitutional” view.
Patry’s blog offered a healthy tonic to the craziness that sometimes seems to pass for copyright discourse today. So I’m especially sad to see that he has apparently deleted all his old blog posts. With luck they’ll live on in Google’s cache or at archive.org. I hope one day he can be persuaded to re-enter the fray.