Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Happy Birthday, U.S. Copyright!

Last week marked 225 years since the Copyright Clause of the United States Constitution was drafted and submitted to the members of the U.S. Constitutional Convention. In honor of this anniversary, Terry Hart of the blog Copyhype posted an informative overview of certain key events that lead to this important initiative. Here are some of the high-level takeaways from his post:

     - The Statute of Anne, passed in 1710, established copyright protection in Great Britain but did not apply to the American colonies.

     - Authors, including Joel Barlow and Noah Webster (of Webster's Dictionary fame) are largely responsible for lobbying the many levels and incarnations of government to support the idea of copyright in the colonies and eventually the United States of America.

     - William Billings, a controversial but widely popular songwriter during the second half of the 18th century, was the first author (rather than a printer or bookseller), to apply for the exclusive privilege to sell and distribute his own work (a book of music that he had composed). He did so by petitioning the Massachusetts House of Representatives in November of 1770, and while he was able to convince the legislature to pass a bill in his favor, it was ultimately vetoed by the loyalist Massachusetts governor. While Billings's efforts set the tone for many important pro-author copyright decisions to come, he himself "never escaped poverty during his life. He was buried in an unmarked grave even though his music remained popular, reprinted freely without compensation throughout the States."

For a more detailed, but still easily digestible view of early copyright in America, it's well worth reading Terry's post. Read "225 Years of Copyright in the US" here:

Also check out "Internet Freedom and Protection of Authorship: A Winning Ticket" from Copyright Alliance for a few thoughts on how this anniversary ties into the copyright issues and political landscape of today:

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