Happy Birthday US Copyright! This week is the 225th anniversary of the first Federal US Copyright Law, which was signed into law by President George Washington on May 31, 1790. The 1st US Copyright Law was enacted less than 2 years after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and was modeled after the British Statute of Anne. Kudos to the First Congress of the US! Here is a bit more information on the 1st US Copyright Law:
The law was called “An Act for the encouragement of learning,” and it protected “maps, Charts, and books.” The decision to protect maps and charts indicates that the First Congress wanted to encourage exploration of the American continent, including its lakes, rivers, and harbors. The decision to protect books confirms that the First Congress also valued the creation and distribution of authorship, both for informational and artistic purposes. These objectives are reflected in the works that were registered in the first month after enactment, which included an atlas, a spelling book, a collection of court decisions, and a “comedy in five acts.”
The first federal copyright law established many of the fundamental principles that are a vital part of the law today. It stated that copyright initially belongs to the author—the person who conceived and created the work— rather than the publisher or the state. At the same time, it recognized that an author’s rights are not perpetual but instead should be limited in time. And it recognized that authors are part of a larger economic ecosystem, and that they often transfer their rights to publishers, retailers, or other parties. The first federal copyright law established the principle that authors should have rights to control the use of their works, such as how they are printed, reprinted, published, and sold. It recognized that authors should have meaningful remedies to encourage others to respect these rights and to provide appropriate compensation when those rights are infringed. And it recognized the central role a registration system plays in documenting a public record of creativity, ownership, term, and other legal facts. [Excerpt from the US Copyright Office commemoration at http://www.copyright.gov]
US Copyright Law has changed a lot in the last two centuries including offering copyright protection to a broader spectrum of works. For example, US Copyright registration and protection is now available for computer software and website content which were not conceivable in 1790. (Not even a figment in George Washington’s imagination). The full text of the 1st US Copyright Law is available at http://copyright.gov/about/1790-copyright-act.html and the current US Copyright Law is available at http://www.copyright.gov/title17/circ92.pdf.
BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.
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See also: Information on how to write a copyright notice at http://wp.me/p10nNq-18; other blog posts on copyright at https://iplegalfreebies.wordpress.com/category/c-o-p-y-r-i-g-h-t/; the US Copyright Office’s website at www.copyright.gov; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.