I’m currently contemplating reading three books on the same subject. The subject is copyright, and the books are Ben Klemens’s Math You Can’t Use: Patents, Copyright, and Software, Jason Mazzone’s Copyfraud and Other Abuses of Intellectual Property Law, and Robert Levine’s Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back. (Long titles!) Even though I find copyright fascinating, my interest in reading these books stems not solely on the subject matter but also a need to feel that I’m being “fair” in my reading.
Although I have not read all three books, I have read enough of their synopsis, reviews, and sample chapters to know their thesis. They are crudely* as follows:
- Klemens: intellectual property rights as they currently apply to software is bad. In particular, the protection afforded is too strong.
- Mazzone: intellectual property rights as they currently apply to a bunch of stuff is bad. In particular, the protection, as it is interpreted, is too strong.
- Levine: intellectual property rights as they currently apply to a bunch of stuff is bad. In particular, the protection afforded is too weak. Technology companies like Amazon and Google are parasites feeding off the hard work of media companies, and it’s time to change that**!
So, even though all three works touch on the same subject, Levine’s thesis and policy recommendations are on the diametrically opposite side of the spectrum from Klemens’s and Mazzone’s. As I’ve documented before, I’m primarily as user of copyrighted works rather than a producer of them, and I recognize that this colors my view on the optimal length, breadth, and strength of intellectual property right protection. Unlike Levine, I’m not 100% confident that no matter how much I read and how many people I talk to, I can guarantee that I’m always free from this bias in my assessment, analysis, and conclusions regarding intellectual property.
But I try — for both the lofty reason of intellectual honesty and the practicality of “know the counter-arguments to your argument”. So I will read Levine’s book; he is a fine writer and no fringe ideologue. Besides enjoying Free Ride, I will try to be fair to it, to be as critical — and no more — of its arguments than the others’. I hope to succeed.
*: I’m sure the authors would contest that their arguments are much more nuanced than what I have written. They are, but as a summary of their stands, I believe what I have written is fair.
**: This long title is actually pretty informative.