13 November 2007

Hedgehogs and Foxes

Winter might not be here yet, but autumn arrived quite suddenly not long ago and now there's a frost some mornings. My bike is in the garage for the winter, and the car displays a season ticket for the station car park. I even have my overcoat out for daily use, and commute in my working clothes.
I spent an hour and a half this evening (leaving, regretfully, early) at the Stephen Stewart Memorial Lecture given by Bill Patry, Google's top copyright lawyer. I didn't feel I was in the presence of a top copyright scholar, unfortunately, though the talk was entertaining enough. It will be interesting to read what the IPKat has to say - Jeremy was in the row in front of me, typing - perhaps blogging on the hoof?
My gripe was that Patry, whose subject was metaphor - a useful tool in describing, criticising or seeking changes in the copyright world, from Lord Hoffmann's hedgehogs and foxes (actually, if I remember correctly, Isaiah Berlin's hedgehogs and foxes, and before him which Greek philospher's? Archilochus, it seems - no dishonour in not remembering that, I guess) to Jack Volenti's efforts on behalf of the MPAA - seemed somewhat intolerant of others' viewpoints: no, not intolerant, he just seemed to overlook that they existed. A discussion of the merits and demerits of Google's scanning books and letting people see bits of them would have been more edifying than the laboured lack-of-a-joke at the start, or the Shaun the Sheep clip (from YouTube, of course). But the role of metaphor in copyright law, like legal story-telling, is an intriguing area for further study.
At least I stayed awake throughout. An interesting morning pondering the meaning of "property" and "chose in action" - is a licence to use copyright one? - was followed by a very brisk run with Rachael, who kindly moderated her pace to a level I could manage. A loop over the Serpentine Bridge, with intervals between the lampposts along the north side, was quite a workout (despite the cool weather, I returned to the office pouring with sweat). I decided against repeating the innovation of yesterday, the "50 Broadway Run-Up", inspired by the Empire State Run-Up but a more manageable nine floors (ten, if I descned to the basement first - must try that). Yesterday I made it to the top at a run,two at a time, though labouring over the last two flights: I'd thought there were only eight floors. The view from the top was good, but looking away from the great fire that was raging at the Olympic site. And it will improve my hills enormously, in time.
On the train home, great excitement as we pull out of Reading: whistles blow and the train halts again, then moves on a few minutes later. Raised voices down the train, but I am trying to listen to the curious selection of music on my MP3 player - it's not clever, so when I loaded three classical CDs on it I found myself listening to a movement of a Bach orchestral suite, followed by the Prince Igor overture, then En Saga, and then the second movement of the Bach, some Glazunov, a Sibelius symphony - you get the picture. It took a lot of concentration. At Didcot, I asked the guard what had happened: "A gentleman decided to get off a moving train" he explained. Through the window? "Yes, straight into the arms of the British Transport Police."
"You wouldn't think anyone could want to be in Reading that badly!" I said, wittily (at least, I thought so).
How did the guard know it was a gentleman? Doesn't sound like very gentlemanly behaviour to me. But these Welsh "train managers" are polite to a fault.

1 comment:

William Patry said...

Dear Peter, thanks for attending my talk. I fear, however, you misunderstood much, if not all, of it. The introduction for example, was a parody of introductions, something others grasped and appreciated. As parody it quite consciously and inevitably had labored spots.

I also disagree I ignored or was intolerant of others' views: almost all of the talk was about others' views. It is true I disagreed with views such as Mr. Valenti's on property, but one can't say that after methodically going through his views I ignored them; quite the contrary. And expressing disagreement is hardly being intolerant.

I also think you mistake the purpose of such lectures: they are not continuing legal education events in which speakers talk about current case law or legislation. Also, in my case as an inhouse lawyer and not a private lawyer, I do not need to impress prospective clients with how I am supposedly a top lawyer. It is further not Google's approach to go around and try and impress others with the correctness of its legal position --on Book Search or anything else. We make our arguments in court, where they properly should be made.

I did not appear therefore as an emissary of or PR vehicle for my company, or in an effort to impress anyone about anything. The purpose of my lecture - and the best Stephen Stewart lectures such as Sir Hugh Laddie's, which I patterned mine after -- was a theoretical: how do people think about copyright? My belief is that how we think about copyright has been largely and dangerously influenced by the property metaphor. In this I am not hardly alone; for example, I quoted Augustine Birrell's remarks from 1898 on the subject.

If thinking about copyright is not your cup of tea, thinking about thinking will clearly not be either. But to be fair, one should evaluate any lecture on what it set out to accomplish, and not by what you would have wanted me to talk about.