Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Book Review: How to Fix Copyright

In late 2009 I reviewed William Patry's great book, Moral Panics And The Copyright Wars. I had high praise for many elements of the book, but dinged Patry a bit for not having a prescriptive solution for any of the issues he raised. I don't think I was alone in this complaint as he responded with a follow-up book late last year entitled How to Fix Copyright.

Like the Moral Panics book, How to Fix Copyright is an even-handed, and extremely thorough treatment of the topic. If it comes off as "copyfight"-leaning to some, it's only because he is critical of the current state of copyright, which leans heavily in favor of rights holding organizations and companies.

Those interested in the topic needn't read the first book, as this one covers the arguments, history, and current state of the law adequately enough with numerous case examples. Perhaps not as deep as the first book in background, but deep enough.

In terms of prescribing solutions, he does this time around. Among his suggestions: Basing the debate on empirical evidence rather than moral panics and biased metaphor, enacting reasonable (shorter) terms of limited monopoly, conditions that take into account the difference between media types, and modernization and unification of rights-holding organizations to allow for international licensing. He also examines several of the issues around international licensing costs and piracy that are really failures to address different  market needs - i.e. Failed business models masquerading as copyright issues.

Some will be frustrated by Patry's refusal to offer a bullet-point list of solutions. He opts instead to weave them through the book as he notes that the issues are complex and nuanced. I admire his sticking to his guns on this. Not all in life fits on a powerpoint slide.

My only fault for the book is this: The first book didn't propose solutions, the second proposes the 'what' but not the 'how'. It's difficult to see the steps toward making these things happen giving the existing regimes and laws, the entrenched interests and their lobbyists. A debate based on fact is a great idea, but how to make one happen, let alone unwind elements of the DMCA? Granted, these aren't easy questions (Some are ones that caused Lessig to go chop at roots).

The above 'fault' is really more a wish. I hope he continues to do great work on this important topic. In the meantime I recommend this book. He's an engaging writer that makes this subject matter highly engaging.

How to Fix Copyright

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