Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

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William Patry Bags His Blog

William Patry has ended The Patry Copyright Blog, and detailed his reasons for doing so.

His blog will be missed by all his readers, both copyright professionals and us amateurs. His copyright legal acumen, learning, and scholarship were second to none, and on full display in his seven-volume treatise Patry on Copyright, as well as in his blog.

In the last statement at his blog, he notes the depressing nature of the current state of copyright law. Of course it is depressing, but not just because of the reasons he sets forth.

Copyright law, in common with all "intellectual property[,] is a cancer," as Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine put it in Against Intellectual Monopoly, p. 264. Like all cancers, it has a tendency to metastasize and grow. It ultimately threatens the life of its host. Even short of killing, it can make life unpleasant, as it did for a young Chinese computer scientist, who was jailed for "infringing" a copyright last year. I don't recall William Patry speaking out against the violation of his liberty, but this blog did. Boldrin and Levine also discuss this issue at length. I can't recall one defender of the monopoly formerly known as intellectual property (or copyright) ever even taking note of the contradiction between liberty and "IP."

He notes that:

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.

Although his point about copyright's preservation of failed business models and technologies is correct, I must respectfully dissent from his view that its reason for being is "to encourage learning and the creation of new works." Copyright, like its older sibling patent, was born in an unholy alliance of kings and rent seekers, and is all about statism and rent-seeking, not creation and innovation. (N.B. William Patry disagrees with this and wrote about it at his blog.) Unfortunately, he has removed his archives, so it's impossible to read his blog on this subject.

Finally, his statement that

In order to encourage open discussion I permitted not only comments but anonymous and pseudonymous comments. I did that because I wanted to encourage the largest number of people to participate, and after four years I believe that was the right decision

is a bit disingenuous, as Crosbie Fitch and I would both attest to, having both had (non-crazy) comments he disagreed with removed.

The legal arcana was a bit heavy going, and of more interest to copyright lawyers. I will miss his blog more for its historical scholarship and erudition, as well as its occasional bursts of humor. I might not have discovered authors such as Ronan Deazley otherwise, to name one.


It appears that Copyright is William Patry's life. It is a mature student he has life-coached in its later years, attempting to guide and channel along socially conducive lines.

I think he realises now that copyright has fallen in with the wrong crowd and no longer chooses to represent the public interest above that of corporations (quite the opposite).

I think Patry may now have decided to let go of his prodigal son, to hope that perhaps one day copyright will realise the error of its ways and cease lending its power to those eager to persecute the public.

However, what Patry can't tolerate are those who'd suggest he'd been fostering and encouraging a psychopath, that copyright and patent are unethical, unnatural privileges that have been slipped into the legislation though corruption.

Those of us who hold to such notions are the 'crazies'. And once Patry has identified you as a 'crazy', your words are tainted, all arguments void - however measured and well reasoned.

Understandably, it must seem crazy to propose abandoning a three centuries old commercial privilege, but when the fundamental nature of the digital domain and the instantaneous diffusion of the Internet render copyright ineffective, and reveal it for the anachronism it is, there seems to be little point in shooting fish in a barrel - suing youngsters for enjoying their natural cultural liberty.

I for one would ask William to keep on blogging. However, I would suggest that he engage in conversation with those of us who suggest that copyright itself may be the problem, not simply those who so ruthlessly prosecute it.


I don't think it's a matter of copyright having fallen in with the wrong crowd. It was always a creature of that crowd--parliaments and congresses in league with rent seekers, and later their intellectual defenders. In saying "that perhaps one day copyright will realise the error of its ways and cease lending its power to those eager to persecute the public" you anthropomorphisize a legal institution that was created and enforced by human agents (e.g. legislators and the police).

Copyright is a problem, but don't forget that this problem was created by human agents and can only be solved by "acting man," as Mises used to say. It won't go away on its own accord. That's why we have to keep writing and remonstrating.

Here's a radical thought: William Patry closed his blog just as Against Intellectual Monopoly was published. Maybe he read it and has subconsciously converted to favoring copyright abolition. Maybe he can't reconcile supporting what you say is an anachronism with supporting other values, such as liberty and property. Copyright is being undermined every day by technology and new businesses, and profitable creativity and innovation continue apace.

I emailed him and he responded making note of this blog. Maybe he'll be back.

Inexplicably, he still things copyright is "essential" in certain "doses". Or maybe he doesn't, and so is stopping his blogging.
Bill, I was being allegorical in my anthropomorphosis, suggesting that William Patry had become too close to copyright, too attached to it to realise that it is the privilege itself that is nefarious, not simply those who exploit their unethical privilege over the public against the public's interest.

It seems a little naive to expect psychopathic corporations to ever have the public's interest uppermost (except to portray it that way in their brochures).

Privilege is inegalitarian power. Corporations are the last to deserve it. Indeed, mortal men should be recognised to have a natural superiority over immortal corporations. Corporations are not men, not natural, and have no natural rights. They are given the semblance of them in order to operate as if individuals, but not to be superior.

The Founders recognised the iniquity of privilege and attempted to pre-emptively abolish it. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Unfortunately, commercial cunning subsequently contrived a privilege, misnamed it an exclusive right, and then in a violation of temporal causality argued that such grants of exclusive reproduction were therefore precisely what the constitution had explicitly sanctioned when it permitted government the power to protect authors' and inventors' natural, exclusive rights. The problem is, whilst the founders well understood the difference between self-evident rights and unnatural privileges that kings might wish to grant their favoured subjects, they didn't seem to appreciate the lengths those who would be favoured by privilege would go to to contrive it. So, it's perhaps remiss of them that they didn't spell it out and say "When we say 'rights' we mean rights, we don't mean those statutory privileges that you may later create and misname 'rights' simply in order to claim constitutional sanction".

As for why Mr Patry has ended blogging, one possibility (as he alludes to) is an inability to escape the implication that he expresses Google's views on copyright, that therefore Google has said "Sorry William, we know you've done everything possible to dissociate your blog from Google, but this still isn't preventing significant opinion from understanding otherwise, and so we must ask you to discontinue your blog". Even this could only be a problem if there were powerful maximalist forces intending to use The Patry Blog's centrist views as leverage against Google.

From my perspective, the first hint of this pressure might be revealed through my comments no longer being accepted for publication in February (http://www.digitalproductions.co.uk/index.php?id=112). I've every reason to believe William Patry is quite able to withstand my low calibre arguments against copyright. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Google directly or indirectly pressured Patry to prevent his blog becoming a mouthpiece for abolitionists and other 'crazies'. Corporations and the committees within them tend to be rather risk averse.

What remains far more interesting than whether William Patry will ever blog again (whilst in Google's employ) is whether he is at all close to actually questioning whether the foundations of copyright, and its alleged justification, are in need of re-examination. Does Patry see the tide of diffusion encroaching upon the sandcastle of copyright, or a few rain puddles surrounding a granite edifice? Which submits? The law or the people?

I note Justin Levine's opinion on this matter here An Expert Copyright Lawyer Tells It Like It Is, where he says "Mr. Patry, the revolution to secure the freedom of information needs more Generals. I hope that your views can continue to evolve in such a way that you will someday be willing to enlist."

(I'd post a reply there, but the comment form is 'closed' - one day they'll invent a computer that can process comments automatically)

Justin, we must be careful to remember that it is the people whose liberty is to be secured (such liberty having been restored from copyright's suspension). We are not emancipating information.

This is an easy slip up that I've seen several times in the free software community. Because of the term 'free software' people start believing that it is poor source code, shackled and set to hard labour behind closed doors, that needs setting free. I can imagine 'freedom of information' having a similar effect.

No, it is not software or information that must be free, but people.

People have a natural right to their liberty in doing whatever they want with the material and intellectual property that they purchase or create, and a natural right to privacy in securing this property from inspection and interference from anyone else, which also includes the right to remove it from such privacy for sale or publication.

There is no natural right, and, as the book Against Monopoly argues so well, no net public benefit to granting publishers an exclusive reproduction privilege.

"Unfortunately, he has removed his archives"

A cardinal sin.

"therefore Google has said ... we must ask you to discontinue your blog"

If this is true, then Google needs to be stopped, broken up, investigated for antitrust, or some such thing. Google should not have the power to demand that a private individual desist from blogging as a private individual and actually get its way, instead of having said private individual laugh in its face and flip it the bird.

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