Little Bits of History

Copy Rights

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 22, 2010

Copyright symbol

February 22, 1774: Who owns the rights to written works? This has been a major problem since the invention of movable type. Prior to that, making a copy meant literally making a copy. As an example, in the 560s St. Columba copied Abbott Finnian’s Psalter (Bible). Dispute over the ownership of the copy caused enough animosity to result in deaths.

In 1556, Queen Mary I of England chartered printing companies to help suppress the Protestant Reformation and only the chartered printers could sell books – all other materials were illegal. This monopoly lasted until 1694 when the grip of the crown loosened after the English Civil War.

The Statute of Anne [1710] is considered to be the first copyright law. It outlined three major points. First, the law applied to the public in general rather than just publishers. Second, the copyright originated with the author rather than the publisher. Lastly, a time limit was placed on the copyrighted material – 21 years for already published works and 14 years for newly published works with another 14 years possible. When the time limits started to run out in 1729, the English court ruled in favor of perpetual copyright to the publishers.

Today, copyright is determined by country where the work was created as well as the country where the work is published. Infringement on this right is usually settled through civil courts but there are times when it becomes a criminal action. While it can be proven words were copied, it is sometimes not enough to make even a civil case and the courts are usually used when serious counterfeiting has taken place.

Scotland and Ireland, not being ruled by English law, flooded the market with cheap copies. On this date in 1774 the House of Lords ruled against the perpetual copyright rule and public domain of copyrighted material was born.

“All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.” – unknown, commonly misattributed to Samuel Johnson

“I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.” – Peter De Vries

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” – Mark Twain

Also on this day, in1997 the Roslin Institute announced the cloning of a sheep, Dolly.

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  1. Grady the Cow « Little Bits of History said, on February 22, 2011 at 8:10 am

    […] on this day: Copy Rights – In 1774, perpetual copyrights were banned by House of Lords. Dolly – In 1997, the first […]


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