Monday, February 16, 2015

Blog post: Mental Labor, Books, Objects, and the Origins of American Copyright Law

The Society for U.S. Intellectual History (S-USIH) has a blog.  Kurt Newman wrote a fascinating post in January on the origin of copyright law in the United States. We know that the federal law was enacted in 1790, but what happened before then?  Have any of us read the history on the web site?  Likely not.  Newman peaks our interest early in his post with this:
Soon thereafter, lobbying by prominent men of letters...led to the passage of copyright laws by the legislatures of Massachusetts and Maryland. Thus, by the time that the Continental Congress met to consider copyright matters, three state-level copyright regimes had already been set in motion.
And was was being copyrighted?
The state copyright statutes stipulated the protection of an array of inanimate things: “books,” “books and writings,” “books and pamphlets,” “books, treatises and other literary works” and “books, pamphlets, maps and charts.” Most also called attention to the special ontological properties of a certain textual object: the “unpublished manuscript.”
How do we now think about the objects being copyrighted?  Has our thinking been determined or adversely influenced by these early laws?  I think we need to ask ourselves that, especially as the objects continue to change.

Thanks to Brandon Fess, MSLIS '15 for pointing out this blog post to me. 

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