Last night in London the SCL welcomed William Patry – inter alia long-time author of 6,000 pages of Patry on Copyright, past Copyright Counsel to the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary and currently Copyright Counsel to Google inc – to deliver its the annual lecture, “Crafting an effective Copyright Law”.
His central thesis is that copyright, a creature of statute – or as he preferred to call it, a government program – can only be effectively regulated by reference to the empirical evidence. If the current copyright regime does not work for the digital age – as it clearly does not – it should be changed not to meet ideological or moral arguments about what is right and just, but solely on the basis of evidence as to what will serve the common good.
He used the failure of the regulation of the financial markets as an analogy: how reliance on free market ideology rather than facts and evidence has sent us all down the pan. Just as the banks have clearly demonstrated that they are incapable of acting even in their shareholders’ interests, so too has the music industry shown an inability to adopt a business model that serves its interests; just as the banks have failed their customers, so have copyright holders failed consumers.
Although he is described as a centrist in the blurb for the event – and is against ideology from whatever wing determining copyright policy – his arguments clearly did not go down too well with those in the audience who serve larger copyright holders, those who lean to free market fundamentalism or those who are simply stuck in pre-digital era thinking: applause was polite rather than enthusiastic. (In fact, politeness ruled: questioners were polite and Patry himself was, by his own admission, too polite to point fingers at our masters’ failures of regulation.)
He was coy on proposed solutions, though tongue-in-cheek suggested that the insertion of a new first section in the Copyright Act simply stating that “copyright is not a property right” would be a good start.
His book Moral Panics and Copyright Wars, due out in September, will no doubt be a more riveting read – and 95 per cent lighter – than Patry on Copyright.