Posts on this blog represent my opinion. It may be my considered opinion on the basis of my formal study of law and technology. But it is not legal advice. It must not be treated as, or acted upon as, legal advice and no liability is accepted for doing so.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Patry on Copyright

No, not the six-volume epic, but rather the talk given last week in London by its author, Google's copyright counsel William Patry. As well as a comprehensive summary here - with replies to comments by Patry himself - the SCL has made the talk, together with introduction, questions and closing remarks - available for download.

I have not been shy in bemoaning the way that the digital rights dispute too often becomes a sterile shouting match between extreme positions on both sides; those who would make copyright all-encompassing and eternal against those who would do away with it altogether. I am keen to see evidence of any respectable middle ground and I think Patry lays it out very well. There is a good case for the rights of creators to be protected, but such protection must be evidence-based and economically justified. Otherwise, as Patry points out, we are at best in the realm of emotional arguments and at worst at risk of following the same ideology-breeds-policy route that has made such a mess of the global economy.

We need more articulate exponents of the middle ground. I've had to defend the very concept of intellectual property against well-meaning activists who assume that anyone connected with IP law must by definition be a copyright maximalist. This is no more true that assuming that anyone dealing with land law would advocate the banning of rights of way and other easements. Equally, not everyone who questions proposals to further extend the term of copyright is a wild-eyed IP abolitionist! Those of us who disagree with either extreme are not sitting on the fence; we're trying to take a sensible middle view. This does not mean that we imagine that we have easy solutions, for as Patry admits it will be difficult to resolve the issues arising from current IP law. But just because something is difficult does not mean that we should not attempt to think sensibly about it, or to ask that those who do make policy do so on the basis of evidence and debate, not emotion and rhetoric.

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