Wednesday, March 25, 2009

William Patry on effective (c)

A pleasure last night to hear William Patry on "Crafting an effective copyright law." Patry is one of the world's most distinguished copyright lawyers, as former copyright counsel to the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee for seven years and author of the seven-volume treatise "Patry on Copyright." He is now senior copyright counsel at Google.

The theme of Patry's talk was the irrationality of the public policy process around copyright. As he said, most of the substantive arguments on the subject have been around since at least the time of Lord Macaulay's 1841 speech to Parliament on term extension:
[P]roperty is the creature of the law, and … the law which creates property can be defended only on this ground, that it is a law beneficial to mankind… The system of copyright has great advantages and great disadvantages; and it is our business to ascertain what these are, and then to make an arrangement under which the advantages may be as far as possible secured, and the disadvantages as far as possible excluded&hellip

It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.

Even so, the presence in the audience of Lord Justice Hoffman and Mr Justice Jacobs could be interpreted optimistically. If they and the other lawyers in the room could better convey to the government the folly of rejecting empirical evidence on the impact of copyright in favour of romantic notions based on natural rights, we might see fewer naked grants of extended monopolies to international recording and film companies at the expense of the UK public.

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