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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ars Technica Reviews Patry's "Screed," Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars
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I was puzzling over the timing of this blog post, when I learned that a review of William Patry's Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars was posted yesterday by Nate Anderson of Ars Technica. It is called Big Content: Using "moral panics" to change copyright law. It is both funny and devastating.

As the review's title indicates, Ars Technica is no cheerleader for copyrights or content industries. Indeed, its biases slant against them, but Ars is still worth listening to--it usually avoids the unhinged ranting of copyhate blogs like TechDirt, (and its coverage of the two Thomas trials and the Tenenbaum trial was invaluable and unique).

But that makes the Ars review of Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars ("Copyright Wars") all the more telling. As Ars notes, "the tone [in Copyright Wars] gets so one-sided at points that all but the most hardened copyfighter will probably set the book down at some passages, scratch the chin, and ask, 'Really?'"

Indeed, Ars notes that Patry is "an established and highly successful lawyer whose bio hardly makes him sound like a bomb-thrower. But, when freed from the shackles of legal writing, Patry can lob hand grenades with the best of them." Ars then quotes some "choice nuggets" from Copyright Wars, after noting that it "veers repeatedly into 'screed' territory." Here are a few of these "choice nuggets":

  • "'The DMCA is the 21-century equivalent of letting copyright owners put a chastity belt on someone else's wife.'"
  • "'The term graduated response should be replaced with a more accurate term "digital guillotine".... If proportionality is a hallmark of civilization, the digital guillotine is the hallmark of barbarians....'"
  • "'I cannot think of a single significant innovation in either the creation or distribution of works of authorship that owes its origins to the copyright industries.'"
Sadly, both Ars and my prior posts overlooked my now-favorite "nugget" (p. 164):
  • "Corporatism was previously thought to have reached its zenith during Mussolini's Fascist Italy, but with the DMCA, it is enjoying a healthy resurgence."
Yes, that was William Patry arguing that on-line services providers--to secure for themselves the safe-harbors that would let them gleefully advocate copyright enforcement against consumers in Grokster--knowingly introduced Mussolini-like fascism to America. Consequently, I cannot agree when Ars says, "The views [expressed in Copyright Wars may not be Google's, but it's not hard to see why Patry has landed at an aggregators and indexer of content rather than a creator of it." Actually, if you take Copyright Wars seriously, then it should be very hard. As Ars delicately put it:
[T]here's a certain irony in the method here. The quotes above rely on the most vivid of metaphors--copyright battles as cancer, graduated response laws as guillotines, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as a chastity belt [and fascism]--in order to discredit what they describe, yet this is exactly what Patry spends much of the book accusing Big Content of doing.
But there are layers of irony here. Mr. Anderson happily used the term "Big Content"--which analogizes creative industries to "Big Tobacco"--in the sentence in which he was trying to note, (albeit rather gently), that Copyright Wars goes way over the top rhetorically. After all, the author of Copyright Wars wrote a chapter-long denunciation of the claim that an author is the "parent" of her work--and then claimed that Samsung is the husband of a Samsung DVD player and that content industries thus "put a chastity belt on someone else's wife."

Finally, I must note that Ars should not harbor the notion that Mr. Patry will contemplate its review of his book. Unfortunately, Ars--like two other "multiple reviewers" of Copyright Wars--was so rude as to note that Copyright Wars is a parody of itself. The "most prolific scholar of copyright in history" has explained what he does with the reviews of such "haters":

There are, of course, the haters who pen diatribes that are not in any meaning of the word a "review." Two people in particular have write multiple such "reviews," apparently unable to ever purge themselves of the bile that poisons their lives as they attempt to poison others' lives. To them, I quote Max Reger's letter to a music reviewer of one of his compositions: "I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review before me. Soon, it will be behind me."
--William Patry.

Obviously, I will have more to say about the preceding--and oh-so-scholarly--"analysis" soon enough.

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 7:09 PM | Books & Book Reviews , Copyright , Cyber-Security , Googlephobia , IP , Innovation , Internet , Trade

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