Monday, November 02, 2009

My next book

There is nothing worse than having to take your own advice. The advice in question is giving consumers what they want. There has been a wide variety in the reviews of Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, usually but not always along the fault lines in the debates over copyright. There have been some reviews that honestly evaluate the book for what it tries to do, pointing out its strengths and its weaknesses. I appreciate those reviews a lot because they help me figure out what I need to do better. There are, of course, the haters who pen diatribes that are not in any meaning of the word a "review." Two people in particular have write multiple such "reviews," apparently unable to ever purge themselves of the bile that poisons their lives as they attempt to poison others' lives. To them, I quote Max Reger's letter to a music reviewer of one of his compositions: "I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review before me. Soon, it will be behind me."

Other reviews I have found to be unfair in the sense that they fault the book for not being what the reviewer wanted it to be: either about the Google book settlement (didn't they read the disclaimer page in bold?) or for not being prescriptive: that is, for not giving a laundry list of amendments to copyright statutes that would, in my view, make copyright effective, followed by a discussion of such proposals. I deliberately did not write prescriptively for the simple reason that had I done so, that is all people would have talked about: the merits or demerits of this or that proposal. Instead, I wanted to write a book about how and why we talk about copyright, and why in my view, those ways have been harmful to solving the difficult questions presented. It is true, as one reviewer pointed out, that in doing so I spoke mostly about the way the copyright industries have talked about copyright, but that was not out of any bias against the copyright industries. (I have said over and over that I want, and we all should want, the copyright industries to succeed). Rather, it is because the copyright industries have been successful in pushing their agenda, and those who oppose that agenda have not been successful in pushing a separate agenda, at least in the U.S. Their successes have come in blocking a few of the copyright industries' agenda items, which is of course a victory, but it's not an agenda. Accordingly, any discussion of how copyright discourse has led to what I regard as ineffective laws will, as a matter of necessity, focus on the copyright industry side of the equation. If metaphors or rhetoric lead to adoption of laws that ineffectively protect copyright industries (for example a law that limits recovery for infringement at a level below actual damages), I will criticize those efforts too.

At the same time, it is the case that I think reforms in current law are necessary in order for our copyright laws to be effective for their purpose. My complaint is not, therefore, with copyright as a system, but rather with how it currently works in practice, at least in a number of instances, some quite important. In Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, I detailed some examples, such as explaining, in a discussion of the term of copyright, how renewal under the 1909 Act was a valuable formality. I was also quite critical of the anti-circumvention rights in 17 USC chapter 12. So it's not true there was no prescriptive element in the book; it is true it was deliberately not the focus of it.

All this leads me to the title of this post, "My Next Book." Regardless of how unfair I think it is to judge Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars for not being prescriptive, the fact remains that at least some people wanted a prescriptive book. In Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars I criticize some in the copyright industries for not responding to consumer demand. Having made that criticism, it would be hypocritical not to apply it to myself. As a result, I have decided to write a purely prescriptive book, tentatively called "How to Fix Copyright." It will be about 200 pages, and cover core issues internationally, that is, important common issues facing all countries. I will explain why I think there is a problem and then offer my view on how to solve each problem. I will finish the manuscript in 6 months and try to get it in print as soon as the publisher can, responsibly, after that. I hope too that people might now try to read Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars for what it tries to do; feel free to comment on how well or poorly it does so.