Timothy Wu is a law prof at the University of Virginia, and a very clever copyright reformer to boot. When Timothy and I last met, he was called Timmy, and we were both students at ALP, the hippie alternative school in Toronto that we both attended until grade eight. One of the weirdest coincidences in my life to date is that two alumni of a tiny school in Toronto would both end up moving to the US to pursue something as obscure as copyright reform.
Back to Tim(my)! His latest paper, "Copyright's Communications Policy," has me absolutely floored. Tim traces the history of copyright law, the way that we've spent a century undergoing a once-a-decade copyfight, in which representatives of inventors faced down representatives of artists and duked it out in the courts and Congress.
The parallels to today's fights are downright spooky. For example, the first music pirates (the recording industry, who ripped off sheet music) got this proper dressing-down from John Phillip Sousa, who told Congress:
These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy...in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal chord left. The vocal chord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.
I mean, I though Jack Valenti's Boston Strangler testimony was over the top, but clearly, Jack took his cues from Sousa et al.
Thirty-odd years later, the another group of pirates -- radio broadcasters, who refused to pay royalties for the music they file-shared over the airwaves -- violated Godwin's Law decades before it was formulated, comparing the entrenched rights societies that served the recording industry (the pirates of their boyhoods) to Adolf Hitler.
Tim runs down the history of cable versus broadcasters, and other copyfights down through the ages. He does so clearly and engagingly, in ways that non-lawyers and non-historians can readily grasp. And when it's done, the most amazing thing is the certainty that copryight-disrupting technologies every bit as wooly as file-sharing have been invented over and over again, and that the P2P fight is not a new one -- that piracy is the norm, not the exception.
If you want to understand the P2P fight, read this -- it is the most concise, thorough and engaging text on the subject to date.