How to Fix Copyright

The U.S. Constitution empowers Congress to promote the “useful Arts” by giving authors the exclusive rights to their works for a limited time. But the evidence is slim to nonexistent that current copyright provisions actually encourage the useful arts. Most copyrights are owned by monopolistic gatekeepers, such as publishing houses, movie studios, and record labels: well-financed rent seekers that try to limit the royalties due to artists. Patry, a copyright lawyer, mounts an aggressive attack not on the principle of copyright but on the system as it exists today in the United States and also in Europe, where lawmakers bizarrely justify outdated copyright rules as a means of preserving European culture. Patry argues that recent advances in digital technology require a fundamental reexamination of the entire system of copyright. For example, 97 percent of all books published more than 28 years ago are now out of print and inaccessible to the public except through libraries, which are often not close at hand. To his mind, those works should be available online, preferably in the public domain. Although Patry does not say so explicitly, his persuasive arguments suggest that even the “piracy” of copyrighted material often results in more public good than harm.

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