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The Book as Intellectual Property: 20th Century

The 20th century was a busy time for those interested in copyright rules and regulations.

International Copyright Law

Despite the Berne Convention and Chace International Copyright Act, the copyright laws continued to be of concern.

The 1905 Tauchnitz Edition provides explanatory notes about the copyright laws associated with this time period. This catalog was published by the well-known German publisher Tauchnitz.

tryitTry It!
Click the images above from the 1905 Tauchnitz Edition and read the four explanatory pages. Think about the relationship between authors, publishers, and booksellers at this time. What were the issues and concerns?


Author Activism

Over the years, many authors have been active defenders of authors' rights. Mark Twain is an example. Speaking before a congressional hearing in 1906, Twain stated

"I like that bill, and I like that extension from the present limit of copyright life of 42 years to the author's life and 50 years after. I think that will satisfy any reasonable author, because it will take care of his children. Let the grandchildren take care of themselves. 'Sufficient unto the day.' That would satisfy me very well. That would take care of my daughters, and after that I am not particular. I shall then long have been out of this struggle and independent of it."

According to Evina (May 2004), "interestingly, the 1909 law provided for a term of only 28 years, plus a single renewal term of 28 years. The life-plus-50 term was not established until 1978. Also, Mark Twain had no grandchildren." Evina continues

"at its annual meeting in New York City in 1957, the American Bar Association adopted a special resolution that 'recognized the efforts of Mark Twain, who was so greatly responsible for the laws relating to copyrights which have meant so much to all free peoples throughout the world'."

For fun, read the article Let the Grandchildren Take Care of Themselves at the Library of Congress Copyright Office.

Check out letters written between Samuel Clemens and Ainsworth Spofford about copyright issues.

Copyright Act of 1909

Between 1790 and 1909, dozens of provisions were added to the Copyright Act.

On February 22, 1909, a report of the Committee on Patents was submitted to Congress. According to Rudd (1971),

"this report is undoubtedly one of the most significant reports in the history of U.S. copyright literature and jurisprudence, particularly for its statements to the effect that copyright is purely a statutory right and that is conferred 'Not primarily for the benefit of the author, but primarily for the benefit of the public.'"

The third general revision to the copyright law was signed by Theodore Roosevelt on March 4, 1909. On July 1, 1909, the act came into effect to amend and consolidate the acts relating to copyright. It included the right to publish, translate, delivery, and perform the work. It also spelled out the many type of materials that were covered including books. In addition, it dealt with international issues such as foreign publications, importation, and other topics. According to Rudd (1971, 141),

"among the notable changes in the 1909 law as compared with the old law are the following: (1) copyright was secured by publication of the work with notice of copyright; (2) copyright was made available for unpublished works designed for exhibition, performance, or oral delivery; (3) works of foreign origin in foreign languages were exempted from the requirement of American manufacture; (4) the renewal term of protection was extended by 14 years to bring the maximum term of protection up to 56 years and the requirement of newspaper copyright notice for renewals, the last category for which the requirement remained, was deleted; and (5) proprietors of musical compositions were granted initial mechanical recording rights, subject to a compulsory licensing provision."

Skim the Copyright Act of 1909.

Copyright Act of 1911

The Berne Convention of 1886 was updated in 1909. As a member of this international group, Britain updated their copyright law to reflect the revisions including the term of the author's life plus fifty years after his/her death eliminating the need to focus on the date of publication related to a document. This shift from the publication date to the author's life reflected a major change in thinking. In the past, suits for infringement of copyright depended on registration procedures. According to Loewenstein (2010),

"this was a subtle assault on English ways, since it brought to an end the persistent debate within British law on the appropriate term of copyright, making the author, once and for all, the sole measure of protection... According to the new principles articulated there, an author's rights arose from the act of creation itself."

Richard Rogers Bowker

bowkerRichard Rogers Bowker (1848-1933) was a journalist, author, and editor. He's best known as the founder of R.R. Bowker Company.

The image on the right shows R.R. Bowker, Mrs. Dewey, and Melvil Dewey in 1918. Courtesy of ALA Archives - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In 1912, a landmark book on copyright was published titled Copyright: Its History and its Law by Richard Rogers Bowker. This book provides an excellent overview of the copyright law up until 1912 as well as the thinking of the times. Bowker (1912, 3) states that

"there is nothing which may more rightfully be called property than the creation of the individual brain. For property (from the Latin proprius, own) means a man's very own, and there is nothing more his own than the thought, created, made out of no materials thing... the best proof of own-ership is that if this individual man or woman had not thought this individual thought, realized in writing or in music or in marble, it would not exist."

The book contains a list of countries and their laws as of 1912. In the foreword to his book, Bowker (1912, x) states his concerns about the copyright law of 1909.

"Unfortunately in the United States of America the forward movement which produced the 'international copyright amendment' of 1891 and the code of 1909, conspicuously excellent despite defects of detail, was in some measure offset by retrogression, as in the manufacturing restrictions. Until this policy, which still remains a blog on the 'scutcheon, is abandoned, as the friends of copyright hope may ultimately be the case, the United States of American cannot enter on even terms the family of nations and because part of the United States of the World."

Arthur W. Weil wrote the definitive book on the 1909 copyright law published in 1917 titled American Copyright Law. While Bowker's book was written for layman, Weil's book took a lawyer's point of view.

Copyright Revisions and International Issues

Between 1909 and 1924, a number of amendments were made to adhere to the International Copyright Convention known as the Berne Convention.

The Convention on Literary and Artistic Copyright was signed by the United States and 19 Central and South American countries in Buenos Aires on August 11, 1910. It was proclaimed by Woodrow Wilson on July 14, 1914 becoming the first general, international copyright treaty signed by the United States.

On December 18, 1919, an amendment to the copyright law providing retrospective protection for books by foreign authors published during World War I, but not protected because of conditions related to the war.

In 1941 an amendment extended copyright protection to works published abroad. This law protected authors or proprietors from losing their protection because of disruptions caused by World War II.

In 1945, Zechariah Chafee suggested six ideals to which a copyright statute should aspire. Ringer (1974) reviewed these ideals:

"1) complete coverage ; 2) unified protection, enabling the author to control all the channels through which the work reaches the public; 3) international protection, with no discrimination against foreign authors ; 4) protection that does not go substantially beyond the purposes it seeks to serve; 5) protection that is not so broad as to stifle independent creation by others ; and 6) legal rules that are convenient to handle."

Copyright Revisions and the Universal Copyright Convention

On August 31, 1954 additional revisions we made based on the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC). This made it possible to ratify the UCC. On September 16, 1955, these changes took effect.

At Senate hearings in the spring of 1954, authors including poet Carl Sandburg and Herman Wouk, author of The Caine Mutiny, spoke in favor of the UCC. On November 5, 1954, President Eisenhower signed the UCC to more closely align United States laws with the international community (Nierman, 2005).

The image below from the Library of Congress Copyright Archive includes businessmen, politicians, scholars, and authors who were present for the signing. The lack of women was typical for the time period. However represents the lack of involvement of women throughout this process.


Revisions Committee

As the copyright law became more complicated, a series of committees held meeting to deal with specific aspects of the law. In late 1950s and early 1960s reports were published related to specific areas of the law such as fair use and performance rights.

One of the studies was of particular interest nationally and internationally. William Strauss (1959, 115) authored The Moral Right of the Author. This paper begins

"it is frequently said abroad that the "moral" right of the author, i.e., the right to safeguard his artistic reputation-as distinguished from the property aspects of his copyright-is not sufficiently protected in the law of the United States. Even American lawyers have expressed this opinion. The alleged nonexistence of protection of the author's moral right has been considered one of the principal obstacles to adherence by the United States to the Berne and Washington Copyright Conventions, both of which contain provisions for the protection of the right of the author to claim authorship in his work and to prevent others from interfering with its integrity."

The paper provides a comparison of he author's rights under American and European laws. The author concludes that "without using the label 'moral right,' or designation of components of moral right, the courts in the United States arrive at much the same results as do European courts."

Skim the Subcommittee reports.

Melville B. Nimmer

On July 31, 1963, Nimmer on Copyright by Melville B. Nimmer (1923-1985) was published. The first definitive textbook since Weil's text, it is often cited in court decisions.

The Rights of the Author vs the Public

rickoverIn the early 1960s, Admiral Hyman Rickover sought to prevent unauthorized publications by the Public Affairs Associates of his speeches on education and atomic energy. According to Ringer (1974, 8),

"At the heart of the dispute was the question of whether the author's efforts to control publication and assert economic rights in his writings amounted to interference with the public's right of free access. Justice Stanley Reed, who by that time had retired from the Supreme Court but was sitting on the Circuit Court of Appeals by designation, wrote the opinion of the Court upholding the Admiral's right to secure copyright, and later described the case as the most fascinating in his entire career on the bench. The Supreme Court ducked the issue, but the defendant felt strongly enough to write a book on the question, publishing it under the title Constraint by Copyright."


World Intellectual Property Organization

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations. Established "to encourage creative activity, to promote the protection of intellectual property through the world", the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization formally created the organization on April 26, 1970.

With a headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the organization has 185 member states administering 24 international treaties.

Pro-Copyright vs Anti-Copyright

The debate concerning the pros and cons of copyright raged through the 20th century. In a 1974 lecture, Ringer (1974, 12) expressed her frustrations about the polarizing impact of

"hundreds of debates as to whether copyright is monopoly or property. Certainly no single issue divides the pro-copyright and anti-copyright forces more sharply, and the arguments are invariably put forward in stark either/or terms, as if something that is a monopoly could not possibly also be property, or vice versa... Monopoly, property, and personal rights are merely terms describing certain legal concepts ; copyright has some of the characteristics of all three of these concepts, but not others. Copyright is, as a legal concept, unique and can be defined only in terms of its own special characteristics."

Copyright Act of 1909 (Revised 1973)

Over the years, amendments continued to be made. In January 1, 1973, a revised version of the Act of 1909 was enacted.

Skim the Copyright Act of 1909 (Revised 1973).

Copyright Act of 1976

On October 19, 1976, the act was again revised. Known as the Copyright Act of 1976, this law included revisions and reorganization. This act included definition such as anonymous work and audiovisual works. It also dealt with pseudonyms.

In addition, works that received copyright protection from 1964 to 1977 were granted an automatic renewal term. Works created on or after January 1, 1978 are not subject to renewal registration. Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years and is nonrenewable.

Skim the Copyright Act of 1976 also known as Public Law 94-553.

Berne Convention

By 1974, 64 countries had signed the Berne Convention agreement. Although the United States participated in the proceedings, they did not sign.

The Berne Convention continued to introduce landmark ideas related to intellectual property over the next decade. For the first time, both the author's moral and material rights over content were established.

The United Kingdom signed the Berne Convention in 1887 but did not implement large parts of it until 100 years later with the passage of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

The United States did not sign the Berne Convention until 1989. Under this agreement, first publication of a work must occur in a member country. Protection is for the life of the author plus 50 years, except for works published anonymously. These works expire after 50 years.

The regulations of the Berne Convention are incorporated into the World Trade Organization's Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement negotiated in 1994 and signed in 1995.

try itTry It!
Skim the Copyright Enactments: Laws Passed in the United States Since 1783 Relating to Copyright (1973) from the Copyright Office. Think about three of the lesser-known acts that have impacted books and book history. For more fun, browse an Annual Report from the Copyright Office. What were the concerns during a particular time period? Ready for more? Check out Announcements from the Copyright Office from 1954-2001.

Copyright Digitization Project

Copyright records dating back to 1978 are available online at Copyright Records. However the rest of the records dating back to 1870 are not available electronically. Although millions of records have been scanned, the digital collection will ultimately have 70 million digital objects. To view the catalog of copyright entries volumes that have been scanned for the period from July 1891 to December 1977, go to the Internet Archive.

To following this massive digitization project, go to the Copyright Matters: Digitization Public Access blog.

try itTry It!
Think of the wealth of book history information available through the Copyright Office Records (1978 to present). Go to the Copyright Records page and conduct a search. For instance, you may not know that the short story Ender's Game was published in Analog magazine in 1977 well before the novel was copyrighted in 1985. Notice that the novel information refers to the previous copyright.

ender's game


Photocopiers and Copyright

The introduction of photocopiers in libraries provided a challenge for those concerned about copyright issues. Although library copying provisions had been added and deleted from the copyright law over the years, it became more of an issue as photocopiers became more prevalent in libraries.

On January 5, 1983, the Register of Copyrights submitted a report regarding reproduction by libraries and archives. The Library Reproduction of Copyrighted Works report (1983, vii) states that

"The Copyright Office believes that S108 of the Copyright Act of 1976 provides a workable structural framework for obtaining a balance between creators' rights and users' needs, but that, in certain instances, the balance has not been achieved in practice, either because the intent of Congress has not been carried out fully or because the intent is not clear... (the act) allows users to use - by photocopying - works protected by copyright in a way both consistent with traditional principles of copyright law and library practice and not exceeding a minimal encroachment upon the rights of authors and copyright owners."

On January 5, 1988, the Register of Copyright submitted a follow-up report analyzing current photocopying practices. Known as the Library Reproduction of Copyrighted Works (1988, iii), it again gauged whether practices preserved the intent of the copyright law in balancing the wishes of creators and needs of users. The report found that "generally there appears to be consensus on the part of both copyright proprietors and copyright users that the statute itself, as noted in the first report, provides a framework for achieving the intended balance." The report concluded that unless new provisions are needed based on emerging technology that no further review is needed.

Skim the Library Reproduction of Copyrighted Works (1983) and Library Reproduction of Copyrighted Works (1988).

Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA)

In 1998, a controversial amendment was made to the copyright law called the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA). This extended the term to life of the author plus 70 years for works published on or after January 1, 1978 making the law parallel with Europe's. For anonymous works, the term is 95 years from the first publication or 120 years from the year of creation.

Although challenged by groups like the American Library Association, the law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.


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