Patry No Longer on Copyright

2 Aug ’08

Well, this is just awfully depressing – Patry has quit blogging. Reason #2:

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.

It’s worth remembering that Lessig left this same field some time ago, in part because of what he described as a “corruption” of the political process:

Think, for example, about term extension. From a public policy perspective, the question of extending existing copyright terms is, as Milton Friedman put it, a “no brainer.” As the Gowers Commission concluded in Britain, a government should never extend an existing copyright term. No public regarding justification could justify the extraordinary deadweight loss that such extensions impose.

Yet governments continue to push ahead with this idiot idea — both Britain and Japan for example are considering extending existing terms. Why?

The answer is a kind of corruption of the political process. Or better, a “corruption” of the political process. I don’t mean corruption in the simple sense of bribery. I mean “corruption” in the sense that the system is so queered by the influence of money that it can’t even get an issue as simple and clear as term extension right. Politicians are starved for the resources concentrated interests can provide. In the US, listening to money is the only way to secure reelection. And so an economy of influence bends public policy away from sense, always to dollars.

It’s hard to observe these events, and the betrayal that our Bill C-61 represents, and not conclude, with apologies to Little Carmine, that we are standing at the precipice of an enormous crossroad. I’m ashamed of my Government for doing what it has done with Bill C-61. I see no sense in it. And I can’t explain rationally how they have come to the choices they’ve made, without hearing Lessig’s observations about the corruption of the political process in my head. I don’t know the answer, but Patry and Lessig’s departure from the field has me thinking that the time for statesmen and intellectuals has passed. Perhaps what we need now is an army.

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