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paidContent - Inside Word: There's No Economic Value In A Copyright

This story was written by Joseph Tartakoff.

The Inside Word is a weekly feature that looks at compelling industry debates and discussions unfolding on the blogs of employees at digital-media companies.

Blogger: William Patry

Position: Senior copyright counsel, Google

Blog name: Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars

Backstory: Patry has practiced copyright law for more than 25 years, and is the author of several books, including a seven-volume, 5,500-plus-page treatise on copyright law.He started the blog to expand on his recent book by the same title.

Blog post: Patry argues that copyright owners spend too much time thinking and talking about how to protect the copyright and not enough about making the underlying product enticing. “Copyright owners should want consumers to think only about how great their products are and where they can buy them: what consumer buys something because its copyrighted? You buy something because it has economic or emotional value to you,” he writes.

“You cant sue or legislate people into buying copyrighted works they dont like because of DRM or other restrictions. Strong copyright laws are not a substitute for satisfying consumer demand. Copyright isnt fairy dust, magically vesting works with economic value; only the willingness of consumers to pay for something creates economic value. Copyright has entered into the public consciousness and debate because copyright owners have used copyright to deny consumers access to things they want.”

Post-script: But if copyright does not create economic value, what exactly does it do? If there was no copyright protection couldn’t people make as many copies of a CD or a book as they wanted, thereby making its economic value nil? “The idea that copyright is worth something by itself ... is really based on an old idea of what a business should be,” Patry told us. “I don’t deny that where you do have a valuable product copyright can be a critical way to protect that investment, but as you learn from movies (that flop), if people don’t want to see it, it doesn’t matter if you have a copyright.” So Patry advocates that content producers bend to consumer demand. In retrospect, for instance, he says they should have created a legitimate version of Napster.

An aside, since this is after all a feature about employees who blog: For four years, Patry blogged regularly at The Patry Copyright Blog which he stopped updating last August, saying he was upset that people kept on misrepresenting it as a Google (NSDQ: GOOG) blog and that the state of copyright law had become too depressing. Patry says he hopes to avoid those issues this time around with the book-centric focus.

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By Joseph Tartakoff
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