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Dec 15, 2009

In 1841 Thomas Babington Macaulay observed that “it is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.”

In his new book Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, highly regarded copyright lawyer Bill Patry concurs with Macaulay, arguing that ‘copyright should last only as long as is necessary to ensure that works that would not have been created but for the incentive of copyright are created.’

The book at once demonstrates how copyright is a utilitarian government program–not a property or moral right, and deplores the manner in which debate has deteriorated into a battle between oversimplified metaphors; language which demonizes everyone involved – pirates and orphans alike. This has led to bad business and bad policy decisions. "Unless we recognize that the debates over copyright are debates over business models, says Patry, we will never be able to make the correct business and policy decisions

A former copyright counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, policy adviser to the Register of Copyright, law professor and author of the definitive Patry on Copyright, the man, currently copyright counsel to Google, is a centrist and advocate of balanced copyright laws, and, perhaps most significantly, the owner of a kickin’ pair of running shoes

Moral Panic concludes with a call not for strong or weak copyright laws but more effective ones, designed to maximize the creation of new works and learning, and minimize obstacles which prevent others from accessing and building upon them.

Listen here as Patry, speaking as a concerned, informed citizen, not as a Google employee, works his way out from Macaulay’s lucidity, a sampling of which I cite to start off our conversation