Give me a break. I have no quarrel with the notion that current copyright laws are not working effectively in the digital age; but demonizing all publishers and proclaiming the dawn of the grand new age just makes me tired. Philipson offers a caricature of the intent and effect of copyright law in which all publishing entities are evil, greedy bastards, desperately clinging to the rotten, crumbling edifice of the past, while the truly enlightened move on into the great new future where all of the world's knowledge is freely available and humankind can step confidently into the noble future (preferably over the corpses of the publishers).
Well, Philipson has a column to get out, and I suppose it'd be too much trouble to bother with a lot of inconvenient nuanced facts. For example:
That most publishers are working hard to figure out how to embrace the digital age, despite the fact that they don't think it's in their interest to just close up shop and do something else;
That many publishers are cooperating with Google on the print for publishers project -- it's the library project that they object to;
That despite what Google says, the wholesale copying that they are doing is certainly not protected by fair use and the publishers have every right to object -- regardless of what one would prefer the outcome to be;
And that the history of copyright is a complicated struggle that seeks to balance many interests, and is clearly not just a giveaway to those greedy, grasping publishers.
Personally, I'm disappointed that Google didn't do a better job of laying the groundwork for their library project and I'm still somewhat astonished and baffled by the strategy -- and the fact that several major libraries were willing to go along. Is this an attempt to force change in copyright law (in which case it is quite an audacious gamble and I wish them success), or did they really believe that courts would interpret fair use in their favor? Time will tell.
We definitely need a transformation of intellectual property law. The balance has tilted dangerously toward a strong copyright world in which too much content is indeed bottled up and restricted, far beyond the actual intent of those who created it. The work being done by the Creative Commons is, perhaps, the best attempt to set a new direction that will actually get us somewhere.
But rhetorical flourishes like Philipson's are useless. I'm all for charging boldly into the digital future -- but we still need to have our facts straight.