Copyright Expert William Patry Shuts Down Blog, As It's 'Too Depressing'

from the sad-day dept

It was really disappointing, if entirely understandable, earlier this year when the until-then-anonymous “Patent Troll Tracker” had to shut down his blog. Prior to that, it had been one of the only sources (and in some cases the only source) to report on some important cases and trends in the patent world. Unfortunately, it appears the same thing is now happening in the copyright world. William Patry, recognized around the world as an expert on copyright, has shut down his blog. Tragically, he didn’t just stop writing it, he’s deleted the entire archive — so even posts of his that we pointed to just last week no longer are live. This is really unfortunate — and there seems to be no reason he couldn’t have allowed the archives to live on.

As for the reasons for shutting it down, his first is that he was sick of people taking the word on his personal blog as the position of Google, since he works there. When he started the blog, he did not work there, and since he joined the company he was quite explicit about that fact and never commented on cases or stories that involved Google or even other cases involving companies involved in lawsuits against Google. However, too many people would take what he said as the “word of Google,” unfortunately.

Much more importantly, however, he notes that writing about the state of copyright these days has become “too depressing.” This should really open some eyes. Patry has always been a supporter of the copyright system. But he’s become depressed with how the system has been changing, such that he finds himself constantly writing about changes or abuses of the system. Even (as he puts it) being a “centrist” on copyright issues, he’s seen how far in one direction certain interests are trying to pull copyright, and it means he’s constantly pulling hard in the other direction, making him seem less like a centrist and making him depressed for having to write so negatively about things happening in the copyright world.

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. I have tried various ways to leaven this state of affairs with positive postings, much like television news shows that experiment with “happy features.” I have blogged about great articles others have written, or highlighted scholars who have not gotten the attention they deserve; 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. Being so negative, while deserved on the merits, gives a distorted perspective of my centrist views, and is emotionally a downer.

This should be a huge downer for everyone else as well. While Patry and I disagreed about the extent of reform needed in copyright, he is one of the sharpest minds on any issue having to do with copyright, and having him silence himself means that the forces he was sick of fighting — those who are constantly stretching and abusing copyright — have just won yet another battle. That makes it that much harder for the rest of us to stop certain industries from continuing to stretch, twist and abuse copyright, not for good reasons, but merely to prop up their own obsolete business models. One hopes that others in the field will step up and help prove to Patry and others that this isn’t too depressing — and that this is a battle that can be won — but no one will be able to fully replace his regular insightful opinions on the subject.

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Comments on “Copyright Expert William Patry Shuts Down Blog, As It's 'Too Depressing'”

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Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Is this quote somewhat at odds with your advocacy for what constitutes “promote the progress”?

How is that at odds with promoting the progress? Both learning and the creation of new works fits well within the definition of promoting the progress.

What I’m *assuming* (and, please, correct me if I’m wrong) you’re obliquely referring to is the discussion we had a few weeks ago, where you made the claim that *dissemination* of information was *more important* than promoting the progress.

(search engines are your friend).

My point, which apparently wasn’t explained clearly enough for you to understand was that the KEY role behind copyright was promoting the progress. That *can* be accomplished by encouraging the dissemination of ideas, but my problem was that you put dissemination of ideas *on top* of the promotion of progress, falsely claiming that the end goal of the copyright system had to be the dissemination of knowledge even if it did not promote the progress.

I never said, as you falsely imply, that dissemination of knowledge is not important. Just that it’s subordinate to promoting the progress (one is the constitution, the other is in a law allowed by the constitution — guess which one takes precedence?).

So, no, Patry’s explanation is not at all “at odds” with what I said.

Though, it strikes me as curious that you could interpret what I said as somehow implying that promoting the progress and encouraging learning and the creation of new works is somehow mutually exclusive.

MLS (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Thank you for the cite. BTW, I did use Google as well trying to find it.

Among my comments in our exchange was:

“…”promote the progress” is a phrase that in its most fundamental sense contemplates the encouragement of information being broadly disseminated in public forums for its salutory effect of enhancing learning.”

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

There remains plenty of law that needs writing

Once Professor Patry has completed his epiphany and realised that an exclusive reproduction privilege is fundamentally unnatural, at odds with the fundamental laws of information and in conflict with the public in their cultural exchange, then he can work on how the law can and must be rewritten to protect everyone’s natural intellectual property rights.

This requires no constitutional amendment, since a reproduction monopoly over published works is not an author’s or inventor’s exclusive right, but a privilege supposed to incentivise publication. A anachronistic privilege never constitutionally sanctioned, that is now clearly ineffective and unethically repressive.

It’s time these mercantile privileges of copyright and patent, that have been allowed to remain despite the efforts of the Founders to prohibit them, were abolished, and steps taken to ensure they aren’t later reintroduced under some other cunning guise.

mobiGeek says:

Re: There remains plenty of law that needs writing

protect everyone’s natural intellectual property rights.

I just gotta ask….what are natural intellectual property rights?

  • What is “natural” about “intellectual property”?
  • What is “intellectual property”?
  • What rights should “naturally” exist for/about “intellectual property”?
Robin (profile) says:


A very sad day.

While not mentioned by Mike, I’m curious to know what Mr. Patry was describing:

“On top of this there are the crazies, whom it is impossible to reason with, who do not have a life of their own and so insist on ruining the lives of others, and preferably as many as possible. I asked myself last week after having to deal with the craziest of the crazies yet, “why subject yourself to this?” I could come up with no reason why I should”

Interesting personal addition to his professional distress.

A. L. Flanagan (profile) says:

Two ways this could go

1. We get copyright reform as a series of half-measures, that gradually lessen the pain to society until we get something reasonable, OR 2. Copyright law gets worse and worse until it collapses of its own weight. A new body of law gets built on the ashes after a few years of absolute anarchy.

Guess which scenario we’re heading toward now?

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Welcome to missing the point

I have to say while many of the things in his blog were interesting and thought provoking, he often missed the point of copyright altogether. The system as a whole is what creates the potential value that pushes innovation. That time frame where a copyright holder controls the rights to their work product is the key payoff time that gives value to creation.

To say that protecting the copyright on movies or music is somehow keeping new innovations down is misleading. Most of these so called new innovations are just variations on a single theme, “give it away for free, even if you don’t own it”. Stealing things and giving them to your friends isn’t exactly a new idea, now is it? For some reason people think that stealing movies online is okay, but those same people would likely be upset if you broke into their home and stole their copy of the DVD. It feels different when you are the one getting robbed.

In the end, without the potential for income or enrichment, most innovation doesn’t happen. We are a commercial society, and copyright in the bond that makes that work. Break the bond, and everything goes out the window.

Gutless Wonder says:

Re: Welcome to missing the point

Thanks for showing up, and spouting the same BS that has been shown to be false, here and elsewhere, time after time after time. Copyright is not, and should not be, the incentive to create.

And please explain, since you obviously believe you’re far more intelligent and schooled on the subject of copyright than Mr. Patry, exactly how does he miss the point? Remember, Mr. Party is FOR copyright, not against it.

And while you’re at it, please explain how is a copyright property?

If you can explain these things, we’ll worship at your altar. If not, then you’re just a big-headed jackass.

Sevenof9 says:

Re: Re: Welcome to missing the point

>>And please explain, since you obviously believe you’re far more intelligent and schooled on the subject of copyright than Mr. Patry, exactly how does he miss the point? Remember, Mr. Party is FOR copyright, not against it.

And while you’re at it, please explain how is a copyright property?

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Welcome to missing the point (by a country mile)

“We are a commercial society, and copyright in the bond that makes that work. Break the bond, and everything goes out the window.”

Copyright is the only thing that keeps a commercial society running? If that were true that society wouldn’t last a minute, Weird Harold.

In fact, we are a consumer society which, though the same on the surface, is a different beast.

Also, if that’s the case then why did books get written, poetry and music get written and performed and innovation occur before copyright and patents? All kinds of it, I daresay.



Hersh says:

unfortunate for new IP law students

For anyone that is new to copyright law this is a really sad day. Patry’s blog was my number one stop for copyright news. Patry’s way of writing about cases made them accessible to the layman, and therefore to 1L law students. His archives were also a treasure trove. This summer I found myself learning more about the state of copyright from reading his archives than from pretty much any other source (although Eric Goldman’s blog is up there too). I’m glad Goldman’s blog and Patently-O won’t be going anywhere, at least — as far as we know.

Does anyone have any suggestion of alternate web resources on cooyright that use the same approach that Patry did?

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