History of Copyright Law

Copyright law was first introduced in Britain following the widespread use of the printing press and the subsequent expansion of public literacy in the early eighteenth century. The first real copyright act was the Statute of Anne in 1709, which gave an author the rights to his or her piece for a fixed period before they expired. 1887 saw the formation of the first international treaty regarding copyright: the Berne Convention. It is still in effect today.

Over the years, the scope of copyright has grown from its origins in books and maps to cover works in almost every modern industry, including music, films, photographs, software, and architectural works. All of these protected works are called intellectual property—original works from individuals’ intellects.

Copyright disputes have been happening for centuries. The earliest dispute on record occurred in 557 A.D. in a time when there were no copyright laws for protection. The dispute occurred between Abbot Finnian of Moville and St. Columba when Columba reproduced a Psalter belonging to an abbot. The dispute was settled the in same way many disputes of that time were settled: in a battle, which killed 3,000 men.

In 1887, the Berne Convention established recognition of copyrights among more than two-thirds of the world’s nations. The Berne Convention differed from the Statute of Anne in that authors no longer had to register their works with a central body for their works to be copyrighted—works achieved a copyright automatically upon publication.

Many communist countries refuse to recognize established copyright laws. They view copyright as a welfare or support mechanism for artists instead of the legal right of the owners of those works. Communist states pay artists for works that they deem in line with communist ideology, but refuse to pay other copyright fees. A number of unsuccessful lawsuits were brought to these countries by Western lawyers in an attempt to make them recognize foreign copyrights and pay royalties where applicable.

From early skirmishes to its official beginnings in 1709 to the worldwide legal system that it is today, copyright plays a vital role in making sure that artists receive due payment for their intellectual property. As technology advances, copyright laws will also have to advance as they have through the years.