Copyright's Paradox: brilliantly argued scholarly book tackles free speech vs. copyright

Among copyfighters, Neil Netanel is rightly hailed as one of the most important writers and thinkers in the field (he's one of the few people whose words are quoted on a photocopied sheet over one of the toilets at the Electronic Frontier Foundation!) and his latest book, Copyright's Paradox, cements that reputation.

Copyright's Paradox unpicks the contradiction that has made the copyfight so compelling to so many of us: the tension between copyright as a tool to drive expressivity and creativity, and the power of copyright to censor those whose creativity involves remixing, quoting, parody and so on.

Netanel explores the history of copyright through this free speech lens, starting with the first copyright statutes in the 18th century and moving through the history of American publishing, the explosion in reproduction technologies at the start of the 20th century, and the horrible mess that is the 21st century.

Netanel is a scholar, and he brings a scholar's comprehensive, wide-ranging perspective to copyright, but his writing lacks all the worst characteristics of scholarship — that is to say, it's not boring, confusing or abstruse. His writing manages to sparkle and inform, making a coherent and airtight argument for a looser, more liberal copyright as the best solution for freeing more speech, making more money for more artists, and undoing our present harms. There's something almost engineer-like in the argument developed in this book, it feels like a really well-made machine for convincing people of the need for liberal reform in copyright law.

Best of all, Copyright's Paradox offers solutions, a set of simple legislative recommendations that are both realistic and promising — solutions that will end the copyright wars without destroying the public interest or the fortunes of artists.

Copyright's Paradox