Early in this country, the Founding Fathers believed that protecting what we now call “intellectual property”, or IP was important. But they were not the first. The English were.
In 1662, the English Parliament passed what was known as the Licensing of the Press Act, which was an attempt to prevent one printer from copying another’s work without a fee or a license. Printers, or “stationers” as they were known in England, were licensed. They paid a fee to the English government for the privilege of being a printer.
However, over the years, Parliament modified and updated the legislation passed in 1662 but realized it needed an “upgrade.” However, the authors wanted protection as well. Under pressure from both parties – authors and printers, the English Parliament passed what is known as the Statute of Anne in March 1710.
Queen Anne encouraged the members of Parliament to extend the time that authors were protected, which turned out to be 14 years. What was groundbreaking on the new law was that on the 14th anniversary date of publication, the work would pass into the public domain.
For the United States, a new country, the Stature of Anne was no longer valid since we were now independent. The Congressional Record of the First U.S. Congress states “… that nothing is more properly a man’s own and the fruit of his study, and that the protection and security of literary property would greatly tends to encourage genius and to promote useful discoveries…”
The copyright issue was so significant by 1783, each state except Delaware, had its own copyright laws. The central government under the Articles of Confederation had no power to regulate copyrights or the protection of IP. In fact, most states simply took the Statue of Anne and adapted it to their own purposes. This led to a crazy quilt set of copyright laws that differed depending on what state on resided.
It was so complex and cumbersome that during the Constitutional Convention in 1787, James Madison and Charles Pickney submitted ideas on what should be in the new Constitution. What resulted was Article I (Legislative), Section 8, Clause 8 – To promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries. It is known as “The Copyright Clause” and is the power under which patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc. are registered and managed.
However, having the power to control copyrights and patents is one thing, having a law and policy is another. In 1790, the first U.S. Copyright Law was passed. It owes much to the Statue of Anne but deviates in some important respects.
First, copyrights were limited to 14 years as in the English law. However, where it deviated from the Statue of Anne was that if the author protected by the copyright was still alive at the end of the first 14 years, then it was automatically extended for a second term of the same length before the work became part of the public domain.
Second, the Copyright Act of 1790 limited copyright protection to books, articles, maps, and charts. For some odd reason, music was not included. Until Congress added music in the Copyright Act of 1831, composers simply registered their work as a “book.” Paintings, drawings, and artist sketches were given copyright protection via the Copyright Act of 1870.
Until 1891, the U.S., English and other country’s copyright laws were valid only in the country where the copyrighted work was created. That changed in the U.S. with the International Copyright Act of 1891 when the U.S. officially recognized those created in other countries.
Now, when you see the symbols ©, ®, ™, and others you know the history of the law that supports them.
Image is the copyright symbol.