Google, Hollywood and the 'moral panic' of copyright law

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Google, Hollywood and the 'moral panic' of copyright law

Mon Aug 17, 2009 @ 01:34PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Patry,william William Patry, senior copyright counsel at Google, is one of the most respected lawyers in the field. His book, "Patry on Copyright," is widely quoted by legal scholars and has even been cited by judges in important decisions, such as the opinion that resulted in Warner Bros. losing its muscled grip on the Superman copyright.

Patry has a new blog and new book that's been causing a ruckus. In "Moral Panics and the Copyright Laws," he argues that copyright laws are important, but that often, businesses become too reliant on copyright protection instead of crafting good business models.

Hollywood has become one of his biggest targets. Over the past week, he's been debating Ben Sheffner of Copyrights & Campaigns about a range of actions by the entertainment industry, from the RIAA's aggressive litigation campaign to the industry's stated need for strong DRM measures. Patry's position is that the industry should first and foremost think about what consumers want. (We're dumbing down his arguments, you should read his blog or book for the intricacies.) 

Patry's also giving some interesting interviews. For example, he tells PaidContent, "The idea that copyright is worth something by itself ... is really based on an old idea of what a business should be...I don’t deny that where you do have a valuable product a 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.”

Is Patry saying that Hollywood doesn't do enough marketing? That seems strange. After all, the entertainment industry will be spending more than $16 billion on ads this year, probably dwarfing the amount it spends on copyright protection. Maybe he's saying that Hollywood doesn't produce enough good movies, although he does admit to taking his children "to see every kids’ movie" that comes out.

Patry is getting serious attention for his views. We're curious to know how he would run a Hollywood studio.

UPDATE: Patry has left us a cordial reply in the comment section.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to

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