Skip to content

NYU Fair Use Symposium

NYU is hosting a symposium on fair use at the end of April. Bill Patry thinks that the lineup of speakers is sufficiently one-sided that the program risks preaching to the converted. It may even be more harmful than helpful.

I see his point in the abstract; I don’t I buy it in this case. While Bill is absolutely right to declare that he learns more from discussions with those he disagrees with (he’s right for himself, obviously, but he’s also right in that I do, too), there are a lot of good reasons to suppose that programs like this one at NYU can be valuable. Where you stand depends on where you sit.

In other words, what’s the knowledge baseline among the likely audience? The problematic character of fair use, or the pernicious effects of its problematic character, may not be sufficiently well publicized even, or especially, among those communities which are intended to be the principal beneficiaries of the doctrine. The NYU program is sponsored by the Institute for the Humanities, not by the law school. If artists and humanities faculty and grad students in the NYU community are well-versed in the intricacies of copyright and in the politics of fair use, then they don’t need this program. But if they’re not, and even if the program seems one-sided, then some salience can move the discussion forward. If the audience turns out to consist mostly of James Boyle groupies, then I suppose that the program is a failure. (No disrespect to Jamie Boyle; most law faculty would welcome a few groupies!) If the audience is surprised and intrigued and even challenged by the new salience of copyright, then I think that the program is a success. Those on the other side of the fair use aisle from Jamie and Larry and Siva will have plenty of chances to make their case.