Tuesday, January 28, 2014

More from the Alexander Backlist (on the History of Copyright Law)

Last week we mentioned Isabella Alexander's "artifactual approach" to copyright law, as discussed in a recent essay. Alexander (University of Technology, Sydney) also recently posted a few other items of interest from her backlist:

"All Change for the Digital Economy: Copyright and Business Models in the Early Eighteenth Century" appeared in Volume 25 of the Berkeley Technology Law Journal (2010). Here's the abstract:
This article argues that, contrary to contemporary assertions that today's debates over copyright are the product of outdated business models being threatened by innovators, this struggle between competing economic interests and different business models has existed since before the Statute of Anne was passed in 1710. Examining features of the eighteenth century book trade, and some of the early litigation that arose under the Statute of Anne, the paper draws out a number of features of continuity between the eighteenth century and modern times, as well as emphasizing points of difference. It looks at the way that early interpretations of the legislation sought to mediate between different interests in the operation of copyright law, as well as the ongoing role played by so-called 'copyright industries' in shaping that law.
"'Neither Bolt Nor Chain, Iron Safe, Nor Private Watchman, Can Prevent the Theft of Words': The Birth of the Performing Right in Britain" appeared in Ronan Deazley, Martin Kretschmer, and Lionel Bently, eds., Privilege and Property: Essays on the History of Copyright (Open Book Publishers, 2010). According to the abstract, the chapter
examines the history of dramatic copyright in Britain. It look at the enactment of the Dramatic Copyright Act and describes the role played by the dramatists of the day as well as the key role played by Edward Bulwer Lytton. It then goes on to consider how the new rights were managed in practice, through the establishment of the first British collecting society, the Dramatic Authors' Society. The chapter looks at the ways that the rights were subsequently interpreted by the courts in the latter part of the 19th century, and the career of Harry Wall, who was possibly the first 'copyright troll'.
Alexander has also posted an abstract for her book, Copyright Law and the Public Interest in the Nineteenth Century (Hart Publishing, 2010 ):
Copyright law is commonly described as carrying out a balancing act between the interests of authors or owners and those of the public. While much academic work, both historical and contemporary, has been done on the authorship side of the equation, this book examines the notion of public interest, and that way that concepts of public interest and the rhetoric surrounding it have been involved in shaping the law of copyright. While many histories of copyright focus on the eighteenth century, this book's main concern is with the period after 1774. The nineteenth century was the period during which the boundaries of copyright, as we know it today, were drawn and ideas of 'public interest' were integral to this process, but in different, and complex, ways. The book engages with this complexity by moving beyond debates about the appropriate duration of copyright, and considers the development of other important features of copyright law, such as the requirement of legal deposit, the principle that some works will not be subject to copyright protection on the grounds of public interest, and the law of infringement. While the focus of the book is on literary copyright, it also traces the expansion of copyright to cover other subject matters, such as music, dramatic works and lectures. The book concludes by examining the making of the 1911 Imperial Copyright Act -- the statute upon which the law of copyright in Britain, and in all former British colonies, is based. The history traced in this book has considerable relevance to debates over the scope of copyright law in the present day; it emphasizes the contingency and complexity of copyright law's development and current shape, as well as encouraging a critical approach to the justifications for copyright law.

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