A brief review: Mark Helprin is one angry man.
U.S. Copyright is embedded in the Constitution, thanks to James Madison in a provision "to secure to literary authors their copyrights for a limited time." (from the US Copyright brief history)
Mark Helprin wrote Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto in reaction to the massive and overwhelmingly negative reaction he got in response an op-ed he wrote on the extension of the term of copyright. As the majority of this reaction came through in comments on the piece directly or in blogs, wikis and other electronic media, the title Digital Barbarism seems to fit.
Helprin runs through the wide array of arguments thrown at him by members of the anti-copyright crowd. He uses analogies. He references events and stories from his own life. He references the same authors as the anti-copyright movement to refute what they are suggesting. He brings in references to literature and thinkers that inform the argument - asking/forcing the reader to see the bigger picture. And over and over again, Helprin is angry or annoyed or bemused by his critics.
My reaction to the book - not knowing the full scale of the sentiment against copyright - is that Helprin could tone down the anger and present the arguments in a much more condensed fashion. But then, as becomes clear, the scale and tone of the onslaught was such that this was the only thing that made sense for him. It has also given me a better appreciation for some of the aspects of copyright that I gloss over or don't understand as well.
And amid all the anger that he directs back to the anti-copyright crowd, he also admits that nothing is perfect. His understanding may not be complete, and he acknowledges that there are some aspects of the current practice of copyright that need to be updated and improved in response to the new technologies - just as the idea of copyright had to be invented with the widespread ability to make copies with printing presses. And if he wasn't so incensed, the book would make for pretty dry reading - or might not have gotten written at all.
Disclaimer: I am not an anti-copyright person. I have seen Lawrence Lessig speak (a proponent of copyright overhaul). My father-in-law is an intellectual property attorney. I keep a Creative Commons copyright on my blog. I've published a PhD thesis that has copyright attached.
[Photo: my own creation]