A Book Review – Of Another Book

The Wall Street Journal just ran my review of the new book by William Patry, How to Fix Copyright. As I write, Patry is a respected legal scholar, and he has plenty of smart, sensible ideas on the subject. But the biggest problem with copyright laws is that many technology companies do whatever they can to ignore them, and Patry doesn’t offer practical suggestions on how to change that.

In the comments section, Patry expresses disappointment that “The Wall Street Journal chose to have my book reviewed by an extreme partisan rather than by someone on staff who might have an objective view.” While I welcome his thoughts, I’m not sure why he’d expect an objective reviewer and I would hardly identify myself as an “extreme partisan”: I favor shorter copyright terms, greater leeway for fair use, and many of Patry’s suggestions. In any case, I hope this will be an interesting discussion of a book worth talking about.



5 thoughts on “A Book Review – Of Another Book

  1. I’m sure that Patry was disappointed that the WSJ didn’t choose someone on staff who would agree with what Patry says.

    At the same time, I’d like to say I’m surprised at his disappointment, because having someone question the finer points of your argument is actually very valuable in advancing the argument. Possibly, you hadn’t expressed yourself clearly enough and you now know what points you need to clarify. Or maybe certain aspects have not been substantiated sufficiently and you know where you need to strengthen your argument, by addressing the key objections.

    However, having seen Patry debate with Ben Sheffner a while back, I’m not surprised at all. Patry doesn’t seem very interested in advancing the discussion, but rather appears to want to close it down and just have everyone agree with his take on the matter.

    Posted by Faza (TCM) | January 25, 2012, 9:57 am
  2. You say: “But the biggest problem with copyright laws is that many technology companies do whatever they can to ignore them, and Patry doesn’t offer practical suggestions on how to change that.” Having read your book, I believe Patry might review it and say: “But the biggest problem with copyright laws is that many [content creators] do whatever they can to [abuse] them, and [Levine] doesn’t offer practical suggestions on how to change that.”

    In a perfect world, you wouldn’t be hired to review Patry’s work, and he wouldn’t be hired to review yours, especially since you’re competitors, at least in the marketplace of book publishing for right now. I’m sure there are at least 100 people out there whose resumes do not contain the appearance of conflicts yours might portray, whether or not you actually disagree with Patry, etc. etc. Perhaps if your review had been placed in the “Opinion” section of the WSJ instead, then apparent conflicts would not have come up.

    Apparent or real conflicts actually matter to people who are looking for unbiased analyses. Especially to thoughtful artists trying to keep track of the situation to analyze for themselves what the best course of action might be in legislating the regulation of content creation and its distribution, so they might be able to better evaluate what systems will help their financial and ethical bottom-line.

    But really, I’d love to see both of you on a panel very soon. Can you put that together? 😉

    Posted by word babey | January 25, 2012, 5:39 pm
    • I don’t think of his book as competition for mine. His book is an essayistic take on legal reform (that involves the media business) and mine is a reported business story (that involves law).

      So I don’t think of this as a conflict of interest. And I don’t think my review would even necessarily discourage people from buying his book; I said it has lots of good ideas from a respected expert, and I mean that. As far as the fact that I disagree with him, a book review isn’t supposed to be unbiased analysis. It’s supposed to be fair, and I think I was.

      As for the first point you raise, yes, he certainly could say that! I tilted at that a bit but you’re right that I don’t delve into it. And, although I’d obviously disagree, I think that’s fair game.

      I’d happily do a panel with him. But perhaps YOU should reach out to him!

      Posted by roblevine1 | January 25, 2012, 10:20 pm
  3. I also reviewed Patry’s book, http://copyrightandtechnology.com/2012/02/12/patry-on-copyright-repair/. And I reviewed it (equally negatively) on Amazon. Patry commented on my Amazon review as petulantly as he did on your WSJ review.

    I’ve seen Patry speak, and he’s brilliant and articulate. But he also has a very thin skin, and what he seems to do best (or most) is complain. His previous book Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars was a litany of complaints and an afterthought-seeming but empty call for “reform”; How to Fix Copyright seems to be his response to the many people who asked him “OK, so how *would* you reform the system.” In that respect I found How to Fix Copyright a deep disappointment. A lot of it is just more complaining. Many of the ideas that are actually in there are unoriginal copyleft orthodoxy. In short, a waste.

    Posted by Bill Rosenblatt | April 6, 2012, 12:04 pm
  4. There are a lot of great points in William Patry’s book. I have profound respect for him because he is one of the very few who is not afraid to dig deep to the foundational question: why do we have copyright laws at all He correctly debunks many myths behind today’s mainstream justification behind copyright that it is supposed to balance the interests of creators with the interests of the public. 

    The big predicament his book is that it is founded on incorrect suppositions and as a result it concludes with awfully risky proposals. Patry believes that copyright laws are not about giving authors the right to control how their works are used. In his opinion, the purpose of copyright laws is to ensure the greatest benefits to the public while giving authors the barest minimum that would encourage creativity. 

    In my critique, How Not To Fix Copyright – My Response to William Patry (http://mincovlaw.com/blog-post/how_not_to_fix_copyright) , I talk about the errors in Patry’s approach and give a lot of detailed commentaries to extracts from his book.

    Posted by Andrei Mincov (@MincovLaw) | April 25, 2012, 4:23 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What people are saying

"A wonderfully clear-eyed account of this colossal struggle over the future of our cultural lives."
—Bill Keller, New York Times

"A book that should change the debate about the future of culture."
—New York Times Book Review

“A timely and impressive book.”

A “smart, caustic tour of the modern culture industry.”


Buy My Book


Hodges Figgis bookstore
6:30pm, January 24
Dublin, Ireland

Digital Biscuit conference
11:15am, January 25
With Bill Whelan
Dublin, Ireland

Institute of International and European Affairs
1pm, January 25
Dublin, Ireland


Keynote speech,
OnCopyright 2012

Keynote speech,
Canadian Music Week

Keynote speech,
Brussels Creators Conference

Television interview,
"The Agenda with Steve Paikin"

Keynote interview,
World Copyright Summit

Speech on journalism,
USC's Annenberg School

%d bloggers like this: