05 August 2008

Copyright Blog Dies From Despair

The Patry Copyright Blog, one of the best advocacy centers for less draconian copyright laws, is going out of business. The proprietor, who has a day job as a senior attorney for Google, cited the difficulty readers have of separating his personal opinions from those of Google, and also noted that the blog was terminated because:

Current State of Copyright Law is too depressing

This leads me to my final reason for closing the blog which is independent of the first reason: my fear that the blog was becoming too negative in tone. I regard myself as a centrist. I believe very much that in proper doses copyright is essential for certain classes of works, especially commercial movies, commercial sound recordings, and commercial books, the core copyright industries. I accept that the level of proper doses will vary from person to person and that my recommended dose may be lower (or higher) than others. But in my view, and that of my cherished brother Sir Hugh Laddie, we are well past the healthy dose stage and into the serious illness stage. 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.

It is profoundly depressing, after 26 years full-time in a field I love, to be a constant voice of dissent. I have tried various ways to leaven this state of affairs with positive postings, much like television news shows that experiment with "happy features." I have blogged about great articles others have written, or highlighted scholars who have not gotten the attention they deserve; I tried to find cases, even inconsequential ones, that I can fawn over. But after awhile, this wore thin, because the most important stories are too often ones that involve initiatives that are, in my opinion, seriously harmful to the public interest. I cannot continue to be so negative, so often. Being so negative, while deserved on the merits, gives a distorted perspective of my centrist views, and is emotionally a downer.

Patry is perhaps the most prominent and "legitimate" proponent of this point of view, which is widely shared by the tech industry, their lobbyists, internet users, media consumers, independent content providers, the Electronic Frontiers Foundation and civil libertarians. Obviously, major publishers, movie and record studios, and pharma, feel otherwise. Losing Patry's persausive and informed voice in the blogosphere leaves the rest of the IP blogging community with big shoes to fill, although there are more folks ready to step into the breach than there were just a few years ago.

I'm personally inclined to think that we are in a "darkest before dawn" situation right now, when it comes to copyright, but perhaps I am just as Cassandra. Time will tell.

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