Kaplan grew up in the South Bronx, graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School at the age of 14. He then attended City College, graduating in 1929 at the age of 18, and Columbia Law School in 1933, and engaged in private practice until 1942 when he joined the Army.
In 1945, while a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, Kaplan joined the prosecution team developing the case against the Nazi war criminals. Kaplan supervised the research and developed legal strategies for the case. In 1947 he joined the faculty at Harvard Law School.
Kaplan co-wrote the first casebook on copyright, with Yale Law School Professor Ralph Brown in 1960. As the Royall Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, he delivered a series of lectures at Columbia Law in 1966. The James S. Carpentier Lectures were then published in 1967 as An Unhurried View of Copyright. Kaplan also served on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1972–1981 and later on the Massachusetts Appeals Court.
Among Kaplan's students at Harvard were future U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, the latter of whose views on copyright appear to have been influenced by those of Judge Kaplan. Among his former law clerks are the influential scholar Cass Sunstein and First Amendment attorney Marjorie Heins.
In 1942 Kaplan married to Felicia Lamport (1916 – 23 December 1999), a political satirist and writer of light verse. The couple had two children. Kaplan died of pneumonia in his Cambridge, Massachusetts home on August 18, 2010 at 99 years old.
- An Unhurried View of Copyright (1967; Reprinted 2008 by The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. in hardcover[permanent dead link][permanent dead link] and paperback[permanent dead link].
- David Childs, "Benjamin Kaplan: Judge who played a crucial role in preparations for the Nuremberg trials", The Independent, Sept. 10, 2010.
- Bruce Weber, "Benjamin Kaplan, Crucial Figure in Nazi Trials, Dies at 99" (Obituary), The New York Times, 2010/08/24.
- Harvard Law School, "Royall Professor of Law Emeritus Benjamin Kaplan [1911-2010]" (Obituary), 2010/08/19.
- Bryan Marquard, "Benjamin Kaplan, 99, esteemed jurist, law professor" (obituary), Boston Globe, 2010/08/20.
- See William Patry's Copyright blog discussion of the work, Dec. 27, 2005.
R. Ammi Cutter
| Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Neil L. Lynch