Friday, April 14, 2017

Pre-1870 Copyright Records at GW's Burns Law Library

[We have the following announcement.]  The Jacob Burns Law Library is pleased to announce a new online collection: "Pre-1870 Copyright Records." The collection provides access to over 2,000 pages of digitized U.S. copyright records created prior to 1870 that had generally been assumed lost. The records were tracked down and digitized by Zvi S. Rosen, currently a Professorial Lecturer in Law and Visiting Scholar at The George Washington University Law School. Rosen received his LLM in Intellectual Property in 2006 from the Law School and later served as the 2015-2016 Abraham L. Kaminstein Scholar in Residence at the U.S. Copyright Office.

According to Rosen, "until mid-1870, copyright registration duties were handled by the local U.S. District Court of the author or proprietor, while the work itself was deposited with the Department of State (until 1846), Library of Congress (1846-1859, 1865-1870), Smithsonian Institution (concurrently 1846-1859), and Patent Office (1859-1865, 1865-1870 concurrently). In 1870, all copyright responsibilities were centralized in the Library of Congress."

Rosen notes that "for New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, whose District Courts together handled 85% of copyright activity before 1870, the Library of Congress has a complete or essentially complete set of the records. However, for many jurisdictions with a comparatively small volume of copyright activity, records may only exist for the years immediately before 1870, if at all."  The fact that so many Federal Court records had apparently gone missing perplexed him, and he set about to discover what had happened.

Rosen says that his "ultimate hope is that the Rare Book Room of the Library of Congress will digitize their holdings of pre-1870 copyright records . . . and, when combined with this project, will represent an essentially complete record of copyright (and thus literary, musical, etc.) activity in America  in its earliest days."

The Pre-1870 Copyright Records collection is available here.

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