Revolution Lullabye

May 8, 2009

Rose, Authors and Owners

Rose, Mark. Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1993.

Copyright is a modern phenomenon, rooted in both the development of capitalism and the pervasive concept of the individual author/genius. These two forces – economic and philosophical – drove the development of copyright law in early modern England, starting with the 1710 Statute of Anne. Rose uses historical court cases, bills, Parliament and legal records, essays and broadsides arguing about copyright from the era, and other histories of copyright law to write his history, which focuses on the development of copyright law in 18th century England. Rose explains the evolution of copyright from a printer’s privilege that acted as a form of government censorship to an individual author’s free and independent right to his property, which was deemed original due to his personality. Copyright reifies both the individual author and the individual work/text, is equated with real estate/landed property, and is used to distinguish between public and private works. Though copyright now is extended beyond literary texts and prevents the rapid, affordable circulation of texts (what it was supposed to protect and allow for), it’s not going away any time soon because both our economic system and our vision of our selves as individuals are so tied up in the system.

Quotable Quotes

“Copyright is not a transcendent moral idea, but a specifically modern formation produced by printing technology, marketplace economics, and the classical liberal culture of possessive individualism” (142)

Why don’t we “abandon copyright as an archaic and cumbersome system of cultural regulation” (142) – explains why we can’t

“The institution of copyright stands squarely on the boundary between private and public” (140)

“The attempt to anchor the notion of literary property in personality suggests the need to find a transcendent signifier, a category beyond the economic to warrant and ground the circulation of literary commodities” (129)

“The House of Lords bore witness to the radical instability of the concept of the autonomous author. After all, authors do not really create in any literal sense, but rather produce texts through complex processes of adaptation and transformation. Literary property is not fixed and certain like a piece of land…All forms of property are socially constructed and, like copyright, bear in their lineaments the traces of the struggles in which they were fabricated” (8)

Notable Notes

the modern marketplace as the “circulation of signs”, like paper notes instead of hard currency (129)

three levels of public/private covered by copyright: 1. unprotected commons v. privated protected 2. unprotected ideas (like patents) and protected expression 3. unprotected fair use and protected

copyright is cartography, not geography – a perspective, an orientation to look at the world (141)

perpetual v. limited copyright

comparision of copyright to patents (14 year limit) – is authoring like inventing? Hierarchy of mental and manual labor, mechanical v. divine inspiration, ideas v. expression

18th century emergence of paternity metaphors…plagiarism (kidnapping)

copyright is actually a compromise – either authors should have perpetual or not, so a limited term seems arbitrary

English booksellers holding on to guild system (Stationers’ Company) vs. Scottish printers wanting to compete in a capitalist model….

16th century- texts as actions (needing censorship), society bound by fidelity, patronage
18th century – texts as objects (someone’s property), society ruled by capitalism

dual concepts of property and propriety…why copyright was necessary

Donaldson v. Becket (1774) – copyright not perpetual

John Locke

move to establish authorship beyond the materiality of the pen and ink. What does it mean to author a work? To own a work? What do you author or own? Removing the work from the social fabric from which it was made reifies the author (88)

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