Monday, February 29, 2016

Netanel on "The Jewish Law of Copyright Since the Birth of Print"

Oxford University Press has released From Maimonides to Microsoft: The Jewish Law of Copyright Since the Birth of Print, by Neil Weinstock Netanel (UCLA). A description from the Press:
Jewish copyright law is a rich body of jurisprudence that developed in parallel with modern copyright laws and the book privileges that preceded them. Jewish copyright law owes its origins to a reprinting ban that the Rome rabbinic court issued for three books of Hebrew grammar in 1518. It continues to be applied today, notably in a rabbinic ruling outlawing pirated software, issued at Microsoft's request.

In From Maimonides to Microsoft, Professor Netanel traces the historical development of Jewish copyright law by comparing rabbinic reprinting bans with secular and papal book privileges and by relaying the stories of dramatic disputes among publishers of books of Jewish learning and liturgy.. He describes each dispute in its historical context and examines the rabbinic rulings that sought to resolve it. Remarkably, the rabbinic reprinting bans and copyright rulings address some of the same issues that animate copyright jurisprudence today: Is copyright a property right or just a right to receive fair compensation? How long should copyrights last? What purposes does copyright serve? While Jewish copyright law has borrowed from its secular law counterpart at key junctures, it fashions strikingly different answers to those key questions.

The story of Jewish copyright law also intertwines with the history of the Jewish book trade and with steadfast efforts of rabbinic leaders to maintain their authority to regulate that trade in the face of the dramatic erosion of Jewish communal autonomy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This book will thus be of considerable interest to students of Jewish law and history as well as copyright scholars and practitioners.
A few blurbs:
"Neil Netanel's From Maimonides to Microsoft is a masterful, rigorous exploration of Jewish copyright law. Netanel weaves past and present, history and theory, into an intricate socio-legal fabric, as he unearths the making of rabbinic copyright law. The book meticulously traces the complex interactions of a community's law with external authorities, framed as a dynamic process of legal transplantation. The result is the intriguing case of Jewish copyright, and this engaging book." -Michael Birnhack
"Neil Netanel follows Jewish copyright law from the very advent of print to the digital age. His contextualization of developments in terms of history and the laws of the societies in which Jews lived make this an exceptionally rich and rewarding read. Enviably well-versed in the language and debates of modern copyright law, Netanel contrasts and compares Jewish and secular jurisprudence through the ages and ultimately offers conclusions about changes in traditional Jewish life that make this much more than just a legal history." -Edward Fram
More information is available here.  And Professor Netanel has posted the book's introduction here.