Saturday, December 15, 2007
Netanel on The Sixteenth-Century Origins of the Jewish Law of Copyright
Posted by Mary L. Dudziak
Neil W. Netanel, UCLA, has posted a new article, Maharam of Padua v. Giustiniani: The Sixteenth-Century Origins of the Jewish Law of Copyright. It is forthcoming in the Houston Law Review, and in FROM MAIMONIDES TO MICROSOFT: JEWISH COPYRIGHT LAW SINCE THE BIRTH OF PRINT, Neil W. Netanel and David Nimmer (Oxford Univ. Press, 2009). Here's the abstract: Copyright scholars are almost universally unaware of Jewish copyright law, a rich body of copyright doctrine and jurisprudence that developed in parallel with Anglo-American and Continental European copyright laws and printers' privileges. Jewish copyright law traces its origins to a dispute adjudicated some 150 years before modern copyright law is typically said to have emerged with the Statute of Anne of 1709. This Article examines that dispute, the case of Maharam of Padua v. Giustiniani. Remarkably, the ruling in that dispute reaches some of the same fundamental issues that animate copyright jurisprudence today: Is copyright a property right or a limited regulatory prerogative? What is copyright's rationale? What is its scope? Which law should be applied to a copyright dispute in which the litigants reside under different legal regimes? How can copyright be enforced against an infringer who is beyond the applicable legal authority's reach? I begin with the factual and historical background to the dispute. I then analyze the rabbinic judge's reasoning and decision. I close with a brief description of the dispute's tragic postscript.