Saturday, October 10, 2009

Book Review: Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars

I've just finished William Patry's excellent book, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars and found it brilliant on a number of levels. I've been reading his blog (first here, now here) for some time now (linking to him occasionally), so I put the book on my reading list as soon as I learned about it.

First off, his knowledge on the subject is encyclopedic. He delves into the history of copyright law and opinion, both in the US and abroad, and yet does so without becoming inaccessible.

Secondly, his objective deconstruction of the approaches and techniques used by those on both sides of the argument lets him get to the heart of the matter. In fact there's a fair chunk of the book having little to do with copyright, but rather with the use of metaphor, moral panics, and other techniques, as tactics by those lobbying for a given cause.

Finally, by using his knowledge of the field and it's history, along with this kind of 'argument autopsy', he gets to the heart of who and what copyright is meant to serve (i.e. Copyright is not a 'natural right' of authors. It's a government-granted monopoly given only to serve a purpose, and that purpose is not that of the author. Copyright is an instrument created for the public good, and thus should serve the public's interests, not those of industry)

He's also not without a sense of humor. For example, in speaking about the 1998 extension of US copyright from fifty to seventy years from the authors death, supposedly to provide incentive to authors to compose new works, and how that was applied retroactively to works of already-deceased authors, Patry points out the absurdy in this by pointing out that these authors aren't composing, they are decomposing.

The only shortcoming I can think of is that I would have liked more of a prescription for a solution. Patry points out that monopolies created to serve the public interest, and that no longer are doing so, should be taken away. So there's a high level solution proposed, but it seems to me to be a bridge too far. How do we decide what the correct level to bring it back to, is? How do we unwind the DMCA? What should individual citizens or corporations do? I think Patry would have a lot to offer here, and I'd like to see future editions of the book include something along these lines.

I found the book enlightening. It has me thinking a ton about it's implications for games, my work, and the future. I highly recommend it.

No comments: