The AHRC funded resource enhancement project Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900) created by researchers from Cambridge and Bournemouth Universities, was launched in London on 19 March 2008. 80 scholars from around the world attended a two day conference at Stationers' Hall.
Copyrighthistory.org offer users anywhere in the world the chance to examine more than 10,000 pages of rare legal papers, some of which date back to the invention of the printing press. Original papers charting the contributions of thinkers such as Machiavelli, Martin Luther, John Locke, Daniel Defoe, Immanuel Kant, Wordsworth, Balzac and Victor Hugo to the development of copyright law have been indexed.
The archive, covering five jurisdictions, has been compiled by an international team of lawyers and historians, led by BU's Professor Martin Kretschmer and Professor Lionel Bently, Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property & Information Law (CIPIL) at the University of Cambridge (pictured).
“Copyright law used to be a topic that only affected authors and the industries that exploited their works,” Professor Lionel Bently said. “Today, everyone who uses a computer, operates a web page, accesses online materials, or downloads music from the internet needs to be wary of copyright rules. While in the past copies were made by the exploiters – publishers, broadcasters or the film and record industries – now they are being made by individuals on computers, in their offices or at home.”
Notable among the British papers is the original parchment copy of the Statute of Anne of 1710, the world’s first general copyright law, and a model for much subsequent legislation. Users will be able to examine Martin Luther’s indignant Admonition To The Printers, written in 1525 after one of his manuscripts was stolen by a typesetter, who then reaped the profit of having it printed overseas. The archive also features prints and privileges by the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer and William Hogarth’s intervention that led to the 1735 Engraver’s Copyright Act.
The editors hope the digital archive will not just prove useful to scholars and legal historians, but inform legislative debates, such as the Government’s current review of exceptions to copyright law, and the push by record company executives to extend the European copyright term in sound recordings from 50 to 95 years.
“History provides useful insights into why copyright was thought to be desirable and how it has expanded,” says general editor Professor Martin Kretschmer. “The primary sources in this collection show that there are many more ways to reconfigure copyright norms than surface in current debate. The regulation of an information society quite urgently needs a wider perspective.”
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