William Patry, a giant in the field of copyright law and a welcome voice of sanity amid the frequent clashes between copyright and digital media, has decided to end his blog (although he has since said he is reinstating his archive after initially removing it). His first reason for doing so — that he has become frustrated by the fact that people conflate his views on copyright with those of his employer, Google, and that he is tired of dealing with “the crazies” — is easy to sympathize with. As a prominent voice of reason, he has no doubt been the subject of many attacks from both sides of the issue. But it’s his second reason that makes me (and so do some others) more than a little depressed. As he describes it:
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.
I have often thought this — and written about it — but to hear someone like Patry confirm my suspicions is actually less satisfying than you might think. The fact that he sees the state of copyright as getting worse instead of better is pretty bleak. And he has apparently come to feel that way as well, and is sick of constantly being forced to be so negative:
“It is profoundly depressing, after 26 years full-time in a field I love, to be a constant voice of dissent. I have tried various ways to leaven this state of affairs with positive postings … I tried to find cases, even inconsequential ones, that I can fawn over. But after awhile, this wore thin, because the most important stories are too often ones that involve initiatives that are, in my opinion, seriously harmful to the public interest. I cannot continue to be so negative, so often.”
I wish Patry hadn’t made this choice, if only for selfish reasons. I can understand why he did, but I think the field of copyright — and particularly the area where it overlaps with digital media — is going to be considerably poorer as a result.