History & background of copyright

History & background of copyright

Last modified 12 November 2015.

The history of copyright in the United States, plus a couple international resources.

Articles & media

The first mention of copyright in the U.S. was in the Constitution in 1789, which rings idealistically regarding innovation and creation:

To promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors the exclusive right to their respective writings. (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8)

However, the history of copyright in Western culture has rather dark beginnings starting with British law in 1556, soon after moveable type spread ideas contrary to the ruling nobility, and in the 1790 Statute of Ann.

Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig (2002), shows how innovation and creativity is intrinsically linked to being able to remix ideas and themes. Available in multiple formats in text, audio, and video.

The Surprising History of Copyright and The Promise of a Post-Copyright World, by Karl Fogel (2006), describes how the history of copyright is really a story of control, monopolies, and censorship — rather than protecting the works of creators.

A History of Copyright in the United States, assembled by members of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), ranging from the 18th century to 2014.

Some Dates in the History of Cultural Technologies from around the world (circa 33rd century BC to 2008), including printing, photography, and other media, along with various intellectual property laws.

Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for Libraries & Archives, outlined by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), provides a global look at copyright.

Intellectual Property on the Internet: A Survey of Issues (December 2002), conducted by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), is a bit dated since it’s not been repeated by WIPO — but still has some interesting global data on copyright.

Government resources

The articles on copyright status, fair use, and the DMCA/DRM dive deeper into those respective issues, but here are useful references for copyright laws and recent rulings.

Copyright law in the United States is codified under U.S. Code Title 17 — often simply called Title 17.

Chafee Amendment, a.k.a., Section 121 of Title 17, provides exemptions for persons with disabilities, notably those with print disabilities.

DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) of 1998 (PDF) outlines copyright protection for electronic and online media.

TEACH Act of 2001 (House & Senate bills for Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization) outlines copyright and fair use for educational contexts.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 History & background of copyright by Sarah Liberman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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