Talk:History of copyright law

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Quality ?[edit]

I look forward to use this article as an example in my classroom: The challenge will be to find something wrong with every single sentence in this article. And it won't be difficult either. 02:19, 30 November 2009 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by Velocipedus (talkcontribs)

Newspapers, Other Periodicals?[edit]

When, if ever, were these brought under copyright protection? JoshNarins (talk) 12:36, 18 May 2009 (UTC)

In England they were, I believe, one of the subjects of debate that lead up to the Statute of Anne, so they were protected at the same time as books. Francis Davey (talk) 09:32, 16 February 2010 (UTC)

Pre-copyright History[edit]

I added a short blurb explaining why copyright wasn't really an issue prior to the invention of the printing press. Source: (link is broken) Jaderaid 03:23, 13 January 2006 (UTC)

Although this work ignores the substantial catalogued instances of maledictions / curses included in Medieval manuscripts to help prevent their unapproved copying, thefts and sales.

Purpose of this page[edit]

Question - is this page dedicated solely to the international history of copyright? I wouldn't mind seeing a discussion of the various major copyright revisions in american history: 1790, 1831, 1870, 1909, 1976, 1998 (Sony Bono)

Note: A fairly accurate and complete discussion of the subject can be found at
--Raul654 11:44, 13 Oct 2003 (UTC)

I think that statutory revisions (and case law) in specific countries should only be included if they've turned out to be internationally significant. I guess this could be said of many recent developments in US copyright. Perhaps the story of the parochial pre-Berne, pre-globalisation US system should have its own section in this article (or its own article, if it gets to big) ? -- Pde 23:39, 13 Oct 2003 (UTC)

Old Eastern Bloc C'Rights?[edit]

Originally at the village pump

I am just wondering out of curoristy...Whatever happened to copyrights that were held by the USSR, SFRY, Czechoslovakia, and the GDR? Thanks! - iHoshie 04:12, 2 Aug 2004 (UTC)

First of all, I think this belongs on the Reference Desk. Second of all, they all probably went to heck (who would seriously care about taking over the records -- especially if you're a communist), but don't take me as an expert. Ilyanep (Talk) 05:10, 2 Aug 2004 (UTC)
You're right. I posted this in the wrong place. Mea Culpa. - iHoshie 06:18, 2 Aug 2004 (UTC)
I don't believe they had copyright laws, actually. Intellectual property wasn't protected. That's one of the reasons why the ex-communist countries were and are such a hotbed of piracy - the culture all along the line was one of free copying by the state or citizens. -- ChrisO 15:33, 2 Aug 2004 (UTC)
They had copyright laws, but they were a different set, which was why many English songs were pirated. Ilγαηερ (Tαlκ) 16:28, 2 Aug 2004 (UTC)
We have an empty section copyright and communism in the history of copyright article, care to add your knowledge there? Andrewa 06:14, 3 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Non-British copyright[edit]

I've only just run across this very interesting History of Copyright article, and am posting below a little research I just did on the UK and the French. Initially my concern was for non-British "origins" of the concept, that these be fairly represented here in addition to the English, Scottish, and British law history. For example I'm sure that Needham et al. must have had something to say about Chinese copyright, as well, and that has a long history too.

And as I've gotten into this I find myself wondering increasingly what the boundaries are, between "censorship" and "regulation" and "copyright"; also about the motivations for the latter -- whether intended to protect The State / government / crown or the commercial publisher or the author. The historical "origins" line drawn for copyright qua concept would be very different in each case. It seems to me that in our modern conception of copyright, arguments might be made for the origins of the term tracing back all the way to Sennacherib and Sumer and even further -- or in the alternative just back to Walt Disney, maybe.

Anyway, the following is what I've said in the other "copyright" article's discussion. I'd be very interested in the views here of people who have assembled this History of Copyright page?

--Kessler 15:55, 21 August 2005 (UTC)

(anonymous interjection: The Statue of Anne 1709 was a law covering all of Britain, not just England - and it seems from my reading to be the first example anywhere of actual rights on copying being given to authors.)

(From the "Copyright" article discussion, history section:)

The article says,

"the modern concept of copyright originated in 1710 with the British Statute of Anne"

I believe this is incorrect. Didn't François Ier originate the droit d'auteur, together with the dépôt légale -- he reigned 1515-1547 -- and the notion drifted across the Channel later to infect Albion as well?

Before I research the details to support this, what do others here know?

--Kessler 15:54, 5 August 2005 (UTC)

OK here's a little research:
* The Bibliothèque Nationale de France says, my trans.,
"In 1537 the king [François Ier] introduced a new idea in a law of December 28, ordering all printers and librarians to deposit at the library at the chateau at Blois any printed book put on sale in the kingdom. This obligation, called dépôt légal, constituted a fundamental step for the Bibliothèque [Royale/Nationale]."
* Copyright, as I understand it, refers to the rights and obligations associated with the "dépôt légal", called in the anglophone world "copyright deposit".
* A little more, then, from a very interesting article in a recent volume on the subject, by and edited by several who know the field well:
"Before there were printed books little distinction was made between physical documents and rights to what they conveyed. It was common to treat the right to copy as conveyed with the manuscript, and natural to protect both with the law of theft." [the writer cites Harry Ransome, The First Copyright Statute (UTexas, 1956) p. 21.]
[Incidentally the medieval pecia system offers one interesting instance: students were allowed to take home and copy from entire bound works, and sometimes from single gatherings, of precious ms. editions: the copying was the point, in that case.]
"Only after the invention of the printing press [1455] did greater facility for multiplying copies create any need to distinguish. At first the primary consideration of the state was not so much with copying the contents of works as with their nature, and in particular with the regulation of their distribution."
"Royal favour was extended to enable wider distribution of works furthering the causes of the established powers." [a footnote cites 1 Richard III c. 9 (1484). But I wonder whether this is a copyright law or simply a censorship law?]
"However, the invention of printing coincided, by no means coincidentally, with the bitter religious and political disputes of the Reformation and the emergence of the nation state, so control was needed to prevent use of the press by potential subversives.” [here a footnote says, “It is thus unsurprising to find Henry VIII proclaiming royal control over printing in 1534 in 25 Henry VIII c. 15.” Again, though, is this copyright or just censorship? Or perhaps the two can’t be separated?]
“Such control was expressed: positively, by royal warrant privileges to print particular works…” [the footnote in this case says, “Such privileges appear to have been modeled on a scheme invented in Venice to cope with the earlier use of printing there, but by 1518 the system was sufficiently established in England for it to be expedient to publish a list of extant privileges.” So maybe the Venetians win...]
“…and even patents to print works of a generic class, such as law books or bibles, incidentally expanding patronage and raising revenue; and negatively, by regulation requiring all printing presses to be licensed… In an eery precursor of modern attitudes the public sector involved the private so as to achieve its objectives. The interests of booksellers and printers were engaged by granting a Charter to the Stationers’ Company to regulate for the government. Its preamble makes it abundantly clear that the primary aim was regulation… Involvement of the Star Chamber started in 1586…”
This is from "Criminality and copyright", by Colin Tapper, in David Vaver and Lionel Bently eds. Intellectual Property in the New Millenium (Cambridge U., 2004) p. 267-8. Tapper is Professor of Law at Magdalen and Vaver is Professor of Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law at St. Peter’s, both at Oxford, Bently is Professor of Intellectual Property at Cambridge.
* So, back to the French: their dépôt légal date being 1537, and assuming that copyright = dépôt legal, then we need to know when the English first required copyright deposit. We also need to decide whether copyright = censorship, although censorship has been going on for so long that it seems such an equation might be meaningless. Ditto for “regulation”: copyright can’t be said to have begun with government “regulation", that being a lot older than anything we think of as copyright. So it seems to me that the French win this point, so far, with their 1537 date, unless someone can show me a date prior to that for English copyright deposit?
* Maybe "protection" is more the issue, tho: whether the author or really the commercial publishing house is being "protected" -- the modern question, IMO -- or the government/king, as in these early cited examples... Isn't that what this "1710 British Statute of Anne" is all about?
--Kessler 16:07, 20 August 2005 (UTC)

"The earliest privilege of the kind was that conceded by the Republic of Venice in January, 1491, to the jurist Peter of Ravenna, securing to him and to the publishers selected by him the exclusive right for the printing and sale of his work Phœnix."

- there is quite some published evidence that privilege for printers pre-dates this instance (so I'de be curious about the source of the information quoted), and there is also strong possibility that German authors obtained privilege before this date.

* Regarding the above comment .. According to Elizabeth Armstrong (whom the Curators of the Bodleian Library awarded the Gordon Duff Prize in 1965 for her essay on Printers' and authors' privileges in France and the Low Countries in the sixteenth century), "The republic of Venice granted its first privilege for a particular book in 1486. It was a special case, being the history of the city itself, the 'Rerum venetarum ab urbe condita opus' of Marcus Antonius Coccius Sabellicus" (page 03). [ Armstrong, Elizabeth. Before Copyright: the French book-privilege system 1498-1526. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge: 1990). ] Furthermore, the above citation to Peter of Ravenna is somewhat incorrect .. also according to Armstrong "Venice began regularly granting privileges for particular books in 1492. The first, 3 January taht year, went to Petrus Franciscus de Ravenna, a teacher of canon law at padua University, who had devised a system of training the memory, which he embodied in a book entitled Foenix " (Before Copyright page 6). This comment added 10 March 2007 by MatthewStevenCarlos

Explanation of page name change[edit]

I added "law" (History of copyright law so that this article will conform to the pattern established by History of patent law, and also because the new title is more descriptive of the article's actual content. Bryan 21:31, 14 December 2005 (UTC)

Nothing here about Prints (engravings etc), Durer, Titian cases etc.[edit]

I came here hoping to find something to link to for the article I am revising on Marcantonio Raimondi, b1480, who provoked one of the earliest cases on copyright in Venice. There is nothing about this here, nor about the rather later case involving Titian. I'm no expert, but printmaking, because making plates was expensive, but not so much so that they could not profitably be copied, was a notable area for early copyright law, & not just in Rome & Venice. "priviledge" systems, which combined censorship & copyright in shifting combinations, came in earlier for prints than most other types of material in most parts of Europe, or so I understand.

someone who knows more than i do should get this into the section.

btw, I thought curses & imprecations,rabbinical & other, were common in manuscript books against those who MIScopied. i mean this doesn't reduce the point, but reinforces it.

Get to it, lawyers!

Johnbod 03:31, 1 November 2006 (UTC)

Sorry, I can't be much help as I don't know much about the "prehistory" of copyright. Its true that engravings were protected in English law long before other works of art (such as paintings). In the UK, engravings first got protection in 1734 (with the Engravers' Copyright Act) whereas paintings waited until 1862 (with the Fine Arts Copyright Act). Francis Davey (talk) 09:31, 16 February 2010 (UTC)


I've added a couple of references to a work on Martial as my source for a statement in a (ref)(/ref) pair (except done properly with <> angle brackets) but `it doesn't seem to be working'.

If anyone can figure out how to `get it to work', please do.

Errata about German-language areas[edit]

I believe that Wittmann's Geschichte des Deutschen Buchhandels discusses an early privilege circa 1640 granted to book publishers in Sachsen (Saxony) which protected said books from piracy. This privilege functioned in a similar fashion to copyright; pirated copies of books possessing such a privilege were seized in Sachsen. This probably also contributed to Leipzig's ascendence over Frankfurt.

Additionally, the Frankfurt book fair had largely died out by the 1760s, and wasn't reinvigorated to its present stature well until after the Second World War. Most of the book traders had opted to exchange books in Leipzig by the 1760s to avoid various surcharges and censorship operating in Frankfurt-am-Main. Again, Wittmann will deal with this to some degree, though there is also a book written in the late 1800s which deals exactly with the decline of the Frankfurt-am-Main book fair, and the rise of the Leipzig book fair. The author's name escapes me, unfortunately. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:00, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

Chinese case from 932[edit]

Here is an interesting book reference somebody should check up on: Zheng Cheng-si, Copyright in China, in Ancient Time, Today and in Future. International Gesellschaft für Urheberrecht. Jahrbuch 1990. Baden-Baden. Supposedly on page 75 of it, there is a claim that when the Nine Classics were engraved, printed and sold by the imperial court in 932 AD, the imperial court forbade the copying of those texts by others, except by am imperial waiver or privilege. -- Cimon Avaro; on a pogostick. (talk) 21:08, 26 March 2009 (UTC)

song rights[edit]

If someone has the time to add a section on song rights, which seem to have been included in copyright only in the twentieth century, that would be great (talk) 07:28, 1 November 2009 (UTC)

Performance (needs editing?)[edit]

The following:

Some copyrighted works are more difficult to protect. Music, for example, may be played or sung by anyone after it has been published. But if it is performed for profit, the performers must pay a fee, called a royalty, to the copyright owner. A similar principle applies to performances of plays. As a written work, a play is protected in the same way as a book; anyone who wants to perform it must pay a royalty.

Does not quite make sense and seems to need editing. First its not true to say that music may be played or sung by anyone as a general rule. In my jurisdiction (UK) s.19 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 makes it an infringement to perform any literary, dramatic or musical work in public. There is no need for there to be even an indirect profit from it. I would be surprised if there weren't many jurisdictions in which this (or something more restrictive) were true, so in this respect the section is in error.

But I'm not sure I even understand what its saying. How does this relate to some copyrighted works being more difficult to protect? Is the article trying to talk about compulsory licensing? The logic seems (to me) to be that it is easier to protect musical works (where performance is forbidden) than (say) artistic works where there is no infringement by performance (sure, performance of works of art is now rare, but there are cases where it clearly happens). The final remark about plays and books also seems to be disjointed and unconnected with the rest.

What is the aim of this bullet point? Francis Davey (talk) 09:16, 16 February 2010 (UTC)

Older Legal rights[edit]

During the centuries following the destruction of the Roman Empire, European literary undertakings were confined almost entirely to the monasteries. The Roman usage, under which authors could dispose of their works to booksellers and the latter could be secure of some commercial control of the property purchased, was entirely forgotten.

Why? Can this be expanded, as the previous paragraph mentions only the author sometimes gaining reward for giving 'first' access to their work. That does not sound like 'commercial control', at least not in a modern sense. ... I'm not an expert, but the whole section doesn't gel. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:29, 13 June 2010 (UTC)

Early copyright law history[edit]

I will be moving big sections on early copyright law in Britain, France and US into this article, they are getting too long for the general copyright article. They are all referenced so there are no quality issues.

Re this article, large parts of it are completely unreferenced and do not comply with Wikipedia quality standards. I will remove some of the unref text when I integrate the sections form the copyright article into this article. Re early privileges, I will create a section at the beginning of the article for privileges which predate copyright statute.--SasiSasi (talk) 20:57, 9 August 2010 (UTC)

1962-1972 Copyright acts[edit]

There seems to be no mention of any acts in 1962 or 1972, shown in green in the graph. ACME Squares (talk) 12:24, 29 March 2011 (UTC)

As this page currently includes only the early history of copyright law in the United States, I have included a citation on the interim renewal acts of 1962-1974 in the main page of Copyright law of the United States. MXYXYM (talk) 00:49, 23 October 2011 (UTC)

Early Developments[edit]

I added to this section to include information about a few ancient societies who displayed some of the early origins of copyright. MXYXYM (talk) 22:47, 23 October 2011 (UTC)

Copyright term[edit]

I was having a look at the article Copyright term the other day and thought that it really doesn't seem to be adding anything extra that is not already said in either this article, List of countries' copyright length and the "duration" section of the main copyright article. What do folks think about merging the content from "copyright term" into one (or several of these articles) and redirecting it. I know that "copyright term" is a specific phrase but there's really nothing that's said there that is not already said elsewhere. Wittylama 04:15, 8 March 2012 (UTC)

Church & government in early developments[edit]

The article states that

The origin of copyright law in most European countries lies in efforts by the church and governments to regulate and control the output of printers.[6] Before the invention of the printing press, a writing, once created, could only be physically multiplied by the highly laborious and error-prone process of manual copying by scribes. An elaborate system of censorship and control over scribes existed.[7]

This does not seem correct. Before the printing press, anyone who could write could copy a book, and indeed it was common for scholars and students to copy borrowed books for later study. On the other hand, many books were singular works that never got copied; others existed only in a few copies. These features of the manuscript book "market" made their censorship by the Church both impossible and pointess. Moreover, I doubt that the Church had any significant interest in books at the time; they were hardly a menace to its authority. Indeed, manuscripts from that time are surprisingly bizarre and original. The commonly repeated claim of oppressive Church censorship before 1450 may be an anachronism, or confusion with censorship of sermons and public speeches. The Church only started censoring books after Luther's rebellion; but even then its censorship was not a primitive form of copyright, since the granting of the imprimatur letter depended only on what was to be printed, not who printed it. The true origins of copyright were defintely the printing privileges granted by royals to printers, at the printers' request (around 1500 or so), to protect them from free-market competition.

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