Book Review: Patry on Copyright

July 2007

Author:  William F. Patry 
Publisher:  Thomson West, 2007
Format:  Binder/looseleaf, 7 volumes

In the current environment of rapid technological change, copyright law and ‘controversy’ go hand in hand. The recent history of the intersection between copyright and technology – from the videocassette recorder to Internet file sharing – is full of charges that copyright law is either too full of loopholes, or wholly inadequate, to provide the technological neutrality needed in legislation for the digital age.

Among the recent crop of books on copyright law, William Patry’s treatise stands out as offering a particularly comprehensive and critical view of copyright in the United States. Published earlier this year by Thomson-West, the seven volume work provides a far-reaching analysis of American copyright history and principles, court cases and statutory law. 

Patry on Copyright differs from comparable works in two notable ways. First, it provides a deep and forthright examination of issues rather than a factual description. Mr. Patry analyzes a succession of landmark judicial decisions which demonstrate how the U.S. judiciary has provided creative interpretations over the years in espousing the copyright cause. Yet he spares no ink in describing con brio the perceived flaws and lack of strict consistency in a number of judicial opinions. Equally fascinating are the details drawn from his personal experience in the U.S. Congressional legislative process. 

Secondly, this treatise is also useful for non-Americans, such as this reviewer, whose interests and expertise may not be focused exclusively on U.S. copyright legislation and case law. Its value lies in facilitating a deeper understanding of a number of key copyright issues – including the applicability and scope of fair use principles and extraterritoriality – which are resonating around the globe with increasing relevance in the Internet era. 

The author himself cites as an additional strength of this loose-leaf publication the fact that copyright issues are placed in the personal, social, and political contexts in which they arose: “There are,” he says, “anecdotes aplenty and enough references to other scholars and disciplines to give a generation of law students ideas for law review notes.” As former Copyright Counsel to the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, and current Senior Copyright Counsel at Google Inc., Mr. Patry skillfully brings to life the ways that copyright problems in the U.S. have been identified, debated and ultimately resolved – or not – at the policy level.

One downside that cannot be ignored is the price of this publication which, at US$ 1,498, places it beyond the reach of most individual scholars. The price reflects, however, the quality and thoroughness of 14 years of research invested in its 5,500 pages. 

As noted by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, author of the foreword, copyright has become a field of considerable complexity and importance. This publication is a welcome resource not only for the academic world, but also for policy-makers and practitioners, providing a rich perspective on current copyright issues and debates in the United States. 

About the author

William Patry is currently Senior Copyright Counsel at Google Inc. His previous positions include: copyright counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary; Policy Planning Advisor to the Register of Copyrights; Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He is the author of numerous treatises and articles on copyright.

Reviewed by Geidy Lung, Copyright Law Division, WIPO

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