Friday, January 19, 2007

The Patry Approach to Copyright

William F. Patry has gone much farther in his pursuit of copyright law's mysteries, and in a different direction, than any mere academic dabbler has. His blog has long offered the single best source for news and analysis about copyright law and policy. Now, he has triumphed in hardcopy, too. His newly-released treatise, Patry on Copyright, offers over 5,500 pages, in seven volumes, on the topic. It represents the largest treatise on copyright law ever published, and the first multi-volume one published in 17 years.

Not content with that monumental achievement, Patry has also started a blog devoted solely to encouraging readers of his treatise to discuss it with him. He wants "to break down the one-way nature of legal treatises," he explains. To his credit, he invites readers' constructive criticisms on his writing and even offers his own: "I have an unfortunate tendency to write with too many adjectives or adverbs and to editorialize." I'd call that a bug rather than a feature, though; consider the bracing impact of Patry's candor: "I have in the past been very hostile to the DMCA amendments, for a variety of reasons, both substantive and process-oriented. I still loathe the chapter 12 additions, and think Section 512 is in need of a translation and redrafting into English."

Those achievements alone should suffice to put any legal academic in awe of Patry. Here, though, is what really bowls me over: Patry left a tenured post at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law to become the Senior Copyright Counsel for Google, Inc. Most law profs seem to think that they've reached the pinnacle of all that a career in the law can offer. Many, frankly, look down their noses at the hard-working attorneys who help real-world clients solve real-world problems. I don't know Patry's personal motives for leaving academia, of course. I will say, though, that too few law profs would even consider giving up pure legal theory for messy legal practice. Here as elsewhere, Patry has proven himself remarkable.

1 comment:

William Patry said...

Tom, thanks for your very generous comments. I am happy to fill you in on my leaving academia. I left Cardozo in 2000 and rejoined private practice. I came on board with Google only in October 2006 (right before the YouTube deal). I had been in private practice from 1981-1987, and I joined the Copyright Office in 1987 (I think; maybe 1988). In 1992 I became Copyright Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary. I stayed there until 1995, when I went to went to cardozo for the Fall 1995 semester. I went into private practice for the second time in 2000 simply to make money: my wife and I lived in Manhattan and wanted children, which was not so easy on a profs. salary (she was a law clerk in the SDNY and made next to nothing). We did have kids (boy-girl twins). I started the treatise in 1999 while at Cardozo, although obviously almost all of it was written while I was in private practice. I have tried to write a new kind of treatise, one that draws on all my experiences and which hopefully will appeal to those from all walks of copyright life. The blog for the treatise is an effort both to keep me intellectually honest and sharp and to involve others in a meaningful way: I think the traditional idea of a treatise scholar who sets out the law for others is deeply flawed and always waw. There is simply too much to learn and too many others with great experiences for that type of role to be effective.Blogging, by contrast, at its best, provides a community and a community of interest in which we can all learn together.