The (Second) William Patry Interview
Editor’s Note: Copycense executive editor K. Matthew Dames interviews William Patry a second time. (The first interview occurred in late 2006, and was published in 2007, the same year West Publishing released the multi-volume treatise Patry on Copyright.) This second interview, completed in late August 2009, deals exclusively with Patry’s new book, Moral Panics & The Copyright Wars (2009, Oxford University Press) [Amazon.com; Barnes & Noble; author’s book blog]
K. Matthew Dames: After writing several scholarly works and treatises (including the current Patry on Copyright and the revised Patry on Fair Use), Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars is your first general market book. Why this book at this time?
William Patry: I have been concerned for awhile about the type of discourse used in the debates about copyright. I thought and still think it is generally unhealthy, and in some cases, deliberately unhealthy. George Orwell once wrote that words can corrupt thought, and I believe this has happened in the copyright debates. I set out to find out why this was going on, and how to change the discourse by making it healthy again.
Dames: Moral Panics … opens with a discussion of business models, and your general argument that copyright law has been used too often to control what consumers do with products, rather than encouraging platforms that give (paying) consumers what they want. This book also was researched and written during a time when, for the first time, you have been in-house counsel to a technology company. To what extent did your work as a business lawyer spur your research into business models?
Patry: I have been privileged to work in lots of difference environments: private practice, government service, academia, and now in-house. You learn a lot from each experience. Certainly the greatest benefit to being in-house is learning business stuff, so being in-house has definintely sensitized me to business issues in a way I wasn’t before. I hope that is helpful too for readers.
Dames: In Moral Panics …, you spend a lot of time discussing language and rhetoric. How did you become interested in this area?
Patry: I became interested because language and rhetoric is so prevalent in the copyright debates and has driven policy decisions, something I think is regrettable.
Dames: Moral Panics … also includes several extended discussions about how language is used to shape the parameters of debates and political issues. In your former work with the House of Representatives, you must have heard several interesting arguments or statements. In your view, which person or organization has been the best at using language to best articulate their point of view and why was that person or organization so effective?
Patry: George Lakoff, a very liberal Democrat and a cognitive linguistic, has written extensively about how conservatives are masters of framing political debates, and I would be surprised if many disagreed. As the opposition now, of course, they don’t have responsibility for actually accomplishing anything, which gives them a lot more room to maneuver.
Dames: On page 29 of Moral Panics .., you write
The response of the heads of these companies to the youthful rebellion of democratizing content on the Internet has been that of may parents worldwide: to fight against the present, to try to ban the future, and to punish those audacious enough to challenge the status quo. The Copyright Wars are a fight against our own children, and it is a fight that says everything about adults and very little about the children.
As a father who purchases lots of books, films, and music for your children — and as a scholar who has objected to “educational” initiatives geared toward children like “Kopyright Kids” and “Captain Copyright” — what conversations do you have with your children about copyright and what their relationship is, or should be, with protected works?
Patry: I think parents have a great deal of responsibility, really the primary responsibility, which should be exercised both by example and by ensuring their kids act responsibly.
Dames: If you had one resource to recommend to your children to teach them about copyright, what would it be?
Patry: Creating something themselves and figuring out how they wanted it used by others online.
Dames: In Moral Panics …, you talk a lot about the consumer, the purchaser, and the end user and their relationship (or lack of relationship) with copyright law. Historically, copyright law and policy in the United States have been debated and discussed in a way that presumes the sole affected audience is large, corporate copyright owners, and you and University of Michigan law profession Jessica Litman have written about the legislative process that goes into making copyright legislation. Further, you have written about the current national copyright reform conversation occurring in Canada. What elements or conditions do you believe would need to exist in the United States so that a similar conversation or reform effort may occur?
Patry: I think that Michael Geist in Canada has shown the short of grassroots movement that is effective, and I think technology companies need to educate policymakers about what they do, in detail.
Dames: What issues are not addressed in the book that you wish you had addressed?
Patry: There are two: Marissa Mayer‘s theory of the atomic unit of consumption [.pdf], and the discsussion by Gwenyth Jackaway in her 1995 book called Media at War: Radio’s Challenge to the Newspapers, 1924-1939. (See Slate article.) Her book is a great example of what I am talking about in a different era.
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