"This article solves two puzzles in copyright law. First, it has long been blackletter law that games are not copyrightable [in the USA, maybe, but elsewhere ...?]. But the origins of this rule are lost to history, and the reasons for it are not obvious. Second, it has never been adequately explained what makes something a “system” excluded from copyright protection under Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act. Modern courts interpret “system” as merely a synonym for “idea” or “process,” two other categories of exclusions. Others have interpreted it using the broadest definition in the dictionary, which would sweep in large amounts of copyrightable material as well. Neither definition gives the term any meaningful content.From Gina Preoteasa (Trylon) comes news of a new podcast from Copyright Clearance Center’s Beyond the Book podcast. This podcast features William Patry (Senior Copyright Counsel, Google). Bill talks about his book Moral Panics and The Copyright Wars, "the lightning pace at which technology is changing our content consumption and the fact that copyright must adapt to our changing behaviors". Podcast here; transcript here.
Like solving a crossword puzzle, this article uses each of these questions to shed light on the other. Games are uncopyrightable because they are systems. The case law that led to the adoption of Section 102(b) demonstrates that systems are schemes for transforming user inputs into a correlated set of outputs. Games do exactly that. A game is a scheme for transforming player activities into moves within the game. The reason why games and other systems are uncopyrightable then becomes clear: the purpose of a system is to serve as a forum for user activity; it is users, not authors, who provide the primary informational value to the outputs of a system. Games and other systems are excluded in order to fence in copyright protection before it reaches user creation".
Patry enthusiasts may not want to stop at the podcast though. The author has a blog bearing the same title here, and the book, published by Oxford University Press, is available here. If you want to know what's about, this is how the publishers describe it:
"Metaphors, moral panics, folk devils, Jack Valenti, Joseph Schumpeter, John Maynard Keynes, predictable irrationality, and free market fundamentalism are a few of the topics covered in this lively, unflinching examination of the Copyright Wars: the pitched battles over new technology, business models, and most of all, consumers.
... William Patry lays bare how we got to where we are: a bloated, punitive legal regime that has strayed far from its modest, but important roots. Patry demonstrates how copyright is a utilitarian government program--not a property or moral right. As a government program, copyright must be regulated and held accountable to ensure it is serving its public purpose. Just as Wall Street must serve Main Street, neither can copyright be left to a Reaganite "magic of the market."
The way we have come to talk about copyright--metaphoric language demonizing everyone involved--has led to bad business and bad policy decisions. Unless we recognize that the debates over copyright are debates over business models, we will never be able to make the correct business and policy decisions.
A centrist and believer in appropriately balanced copyright laws, Patry concludes that calls for strong copyright laws, just like calls for weak copyright laws, miss the point entirely: the only laws we need are effective laws, laws that further the purpose of encouraging the creation of new works and learning. Our current regime, unfortunately, creates too many bad incentives, leading to bad conduct. Just as President Obama has called for re-tooling and re-imagining the auto industry, Patry calls for a remaking of our copyright laws so that they may once again be respected".For the record, the book's ISBNs are 9780195385649 and 0195385640. It's a hardback, xxiv + 266 pages -- and it's a snip at just $29.95.