I read some books: Copyright Blues


This was supposed to be a book review of William Patry’s new book, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. However, while reading this book, I kept thinking back to Mark Helprin’s Digital Barbarism. Patry looks over the history of copyright and how we got to the place we are at — where many ignore copyright, yet punitive measures are used; Helprin looks to an idealized past, where life was slower, and copyright bandits are ruining his nap (and his grandchildren’s earnings).

In some ways, these books are telling the same story — something is very wrong with copyright and unless something is done, the situation will become untenable.

Ed with Betamax On Cowboy Bebop
Ed with Betamax On Cowboy Bebop

However, they approach the situation very differently.  Patry’s book is a seamless academic analysis of why our present copyright situation is based on panic. One of the most interesting sections in the book analyzes Jack Valenti (head of the RIAA)’s race-baiting analysis of the evils of the VCR. And about the dangers of extended copyright terms — assuming U.S. law or Japanese law applies, the Betamax tape at issue in this episode of Cowboy Bebop is still copyright-protected. In 2071.

On the other hand, Helprin writes about how the moral fibre of our country is tied into traditional ways of living, and copyright — and puts an often nasty and personalized spin on “kids these days with their newfangled ways and their [rock and/or hip-hop music]!”

Patry: Highly recommended for academics and those who can’t get enough of copyright. For more from Patry — and likely in a format more palatable for the non-academic, check out Patry’s book blog.

Helprin: Perhaps his fiction is better, if you like to learn more about the lives of men from the past (seriously, just read the opening “man of leisure”/ George Jetson salvo). And for an analysis of his errors, read Lawrence Lessig!

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