By Sheila Pursglove
Throughout most of its history, copyright law was of concern to just a handful of professional producers and publishers.
But today, copyright law is a fact of daily life for most people.
It’s a long way from the first copyright statute in Britain in 1709 that related to printed books. Little could those 18th century lawyers have foreseen today’s laws that protect the creators of sheet music, plays, paintings, photographs, architectural drawings, sound recordings, motion pictures, computer programs, and more.
Copyright law is a passion and source of fascination for Aaron Perzanowski, assistant professor at Wayne State University School of Law. It’s a rewarding area of teaching and research, in part, because it’s in a constant state of change, he says.
“Copyright law inevitably struggles to keep pace with evolving technology and creative practice,” Perzanowski says. “That means courts are frequently presented with novel questions. That creates a space in which commentators can influence courts, legislators, and industry as they develop law and policy.
“Another source of tension in copyright law is its growing presence in our daily lives. As we communicate online and interact with digital media, we’re far more likely to bump up against the restrictions of copyright law, knowingly or not.”
The topic is a bit of a jump from a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Kenyon College in Ohio, but Perzanowski really sank his teeth into it at the University of California Berkeley School of Law where he interned in the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic.
He didn’t approach law school exclusively – or even primarily – as preparation for a career practicing law but because of his interest in a particular set of questions surrounding the regulation of creative production and communication.
“It seemed to me that law schools were the places where conversations about those issues were happening. Pure intellectual curiosity might not be the best reason to go to law school, but it worked out in my case,” he says.
“My interest in practicing law developed over time and was sparked by the two years I spent representing clients in Berkeley’s law and technology clinic.”
Perzanowski became an associate at Fenwick & West in San Francisco, where his practice focused on the representation of technology companies in copyright and trademark litigation; then served as the Microsoft Research Fellow at the UC Berkeley Center for Law & Technology; and taught Cyberlaw and Intellectual Property Law for the Information Industries at the UC Berkeley School of Information.
This native of Bellaire, Ohio, a small “rust-belt” town along the Ohio River, found northern California to be copyright law nirvana.
“The San Francisco Bay Area, including Berkeley and Silicon Valley, is and was the center of the universe for the sort of issues I think about,” he says. “The companies that are reshaping the way we interact with copyrighted works, and the lawyers who represent them, are rooted not only in Silicon Valley’s physical geography, but also its way of thinking.
“In practice, I had the opportunity to work at a firm that embraced this mindset and represented clients committed to innovation.
Although my time in practice was both challenging and rewarding, I decided I would be more satisfied focusing on the theory and policy that motivates intellectual property law rather than the day-to-day mechanics of litigation.
“The Microsoft Fellowship gave me the opportunity to engage on that deeper level, surrounded by some of the most respected intellectual property scholars in the world.”
Perzanowski’s publications include “Digital Exhaustion,” “Fixing RAM Copies,” “Unbranding, Confusion & Deception,” and “In Defense of Intellectual Property Anxiety.” He has presented papers at the UC Berkeley School of Law, Stanford Law School, and University of Michigan Law School’s Intellectual Property Workshop Series, and was a guest on WSU’s “The Craig Fahle Show,” discussing proposed Federal Communications Commission regulations on the Internet.
Perzanowski enjoys sharing his expertise with WSU students.
“As clichéd as it may sound, the students at Wayne Law have been a joy,” he says. “Many of our students bring a wealth of personal and professional experience into the classroom. That not only translates into valuable perspectives on legal and policy questions, but also a remarkable degree of focus and seriousness about their legal training.
“The other thing that sets Wayne State apart is its location in Detroit. For law students, that means access to Michigan’s most important employers and clients. It also provides students and faculty the opportunity to live in a truly unique American city. Obviously, Detroit is not without its problems. But it’s also a city presented with an unparalleled set of opportunities for reinvention.”
Since moving to the Motor City two years ago, renovating his home in Lafayette Park has become a time-consuming hobby.
“Coming from San Francisco, I still find it hard to believe that I own property, much less a space designed by Mies van der Rohe,” he says. “When I’m not sanding, tiling, or installing floors, I try to take advantage of Detroit’s active live music scene.”