Monday, October 26, 2009 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

The L.A. Times and Huffington Post Blast Patry's Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars

Last Friday, the Los Angeles Times published a review that called William Patry's new book, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, "a choppy and directionless narrative, sometimes illuminating but too often scattershot, unoriginal and strident. Unsupported claims abound."

Since Mr. Patry's own blog, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, has refused to acknowledge or reply to this review, (thus aping its quivering-lipped silence toward certain other critiques), I will note some of the review's high points--especially since it scooped me on a point that I was saving.

Times reviewer Jonathan Handel is an entertainment and technology lawyer and an adjunct professor at the UCLA School of Law. He has posted a another review of the book on the Huffington Post. Both do a fine job of summarizing the fundamental problem with Patry's book:

Patry has nothing good to say about copyright law. What do "effective" copyright laws look like? Read this book and you still won't know.
Amen. Those three sentences summarize the fundamental problems with Patry's execrable book--relentless bias and no (real) solutions. Patry often claims that he "loves" copyright law, yet he "has nothing good to say about copyright law." Indeed, as I just noted here, Patry cannot even bear to admit that copyrights have helped American artists and creative industries become world-leading creators of a vast array of works--books, movies, television programs, music, and computer games and applications.

The Times review also notes a problem that I noted in a post to which Patry has so far feared to reply: Copyright Wars is such a self-parody that it often seems like another Sokal hoax. As I did, Mr. Handel notes that the hypocrite Patry piously denounced those who would demonize their perceived opponents. And then he piously demonized his perceived opponents:

Patry's objections turn out to be the pot calling the kettle black, because he himself demonizes his own opponents at every turn. Entertainment companies, he tells us, are "barbarians," and "copyright dwarves" who'd like to "put a chastity belt on someone else's wife."
On it goes, and even Maoists, Soviets and fascists make appearances. Patry belittles the idea that an author's hard work should entitle her copyrights to protection, yet in a blog post (unmentioned in the book) he understandably cites exactly this rationale in refusing to make a multi-volume copyright treatise he wrote available for free.

Well, I did miss the opaque "chastity belt" sneer, and I did hope to be the first to expose the sweat-of-the-brow hypocrisy. Fortunately, enough remains untapped that I can still end on a high note.

Handel also expressed contempt for Patry's failure to cite his sources. In his blog post, Why I made Tom Sydnor's enemies list, Patry claimed that I should have praised him for parroting many of Professor Lawrence Lessig's arguments without citing their source: "[Sydnor] doesn't even mention that I do not cite anywhere in the book copyright owners' favorite bogeyman Larry Lessig or any copyright left folks." As do I, Handel finds this affectation absurd and self-aggrandizing:

This presentation is... marred by Patry's habit of presenting arguments as though he were the first to devise them... Books by Lawrence Lessig, Tarleton Gillespie, and others have made similar arguments more effectively. Patry discusses few of these works and adds little.

This summarizes another critical defect: Copyright Wars is little more than a metaphor-and-psycho-babble-driven "remix" of Lessig's 2004 book Free Culture. I do not think that Free Culture passed the laugh test in 2004. But if it did, suffice it to say that in 2009, an unattributed Free Culture "remix" by "the most prolific scholar of copyright in history" certainly does not.

N.B. To be fair, Copyright Wars does cite Tarleton Gillespie, (p. 164). A review of the index confirms, however, that Patry failed to acknowledge works of which his own is largely duplicative by "copyright left folks" including Lawrence Lessig, Neil Netanel, William W. Fisher II, Jessica Litma, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Pamela Samuelson, Yokai Benkler, James Boyle and many others, including that burn-the-books Schumpeterian, Professor Raymond Shih Ray Ku.

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 9:58 AM | Books & Book Reviews , Capitalism , Copyright , Cyber-Security , Economics , IP , Internet , Internet TV , e-Government & Transparency