September 22, 2009 | By Fred von Lohmann

Book Review: Bill Patry's Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars

Bill Patry is widely regarded as one of the leading copyright law experts in the United States. For the past several years, moreover, he's been Senior Copyright Counsel at Google. Yet somehow he's found the time to write a book, too, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, which was published earlier this month.

If you're looking for a basic primer on digital copyright, or the DMCA, or DRM, this isn't the book for you (instead, try these). Rather, Patry's contribution is to focus on the importance of metaphors and rhetoric in the policy debates (past and present) surrounding copyright. The highpoint of the book comes in Chapter 6, where Patry marshals history, copyright law, and the study of rhetoric to dissect efforts by copyright owners to (improperly) conflate copyrights with ideas of "property." This chapter, moreover, has spilled from between the covers of the book to Patry's blog, where he has a spirited exchange with Ben Sheffner, an entertainment industry attorney who has his own worthy blog on copyright issues.

There are times when Patry's frustration with copyright lobbyists shows through. In those moments, it might fairly be said that he's an energetic participant in assembling the rhetorical siege engines of the copyright wars, rather than a dispassionate neutral observer. But the book is an entertaining and informative read, representing a valuable contribution to the growing literature on contemporary copyright policy debates.


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