Copyright Law Turns 300 Years Old

Copyright turns 300 – Boing Boing.

The Statute of Anne, the first modern copyright law, is now 300 years old. The Statute of Anne is the precursor of the copyright law as it exists today in the US and in Great Britain today, although those two progeny sets of law differ in several of their details. I write from the point of view of a lawyer in the US.

I disagree with this author, who thinks copyright is in place to stifle the creative muse. Copyright is in place “…To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries; …” United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 8.

The author states: “Today, ‘copyright curriculum’ warns schoolchildren not to be ‘copycats’ – to come up with their own original notions.”

Copyright does not protect notions (ideas). Copyright protects the expression of ideas. I cannot read your mind to show that you, in your mind, copied someone else’s work; to show infringement, I must show that a “substantially similar” copy exists of a work that is protected by a valid copyright. We do have a problem with uncredited copying of others’ materials; that is both copyright infringement and plagiarism.

The author of this piece says he learned to write by picking Star Wars apart. As a copyright lawyer in the USA, I have no problem with that; it’s a fine way to learn to write. The author was engaging in making a fair-use derivative of Star Wars: he copied the story for educational purposes, and I doubt very much that he ever published his Star Wars derivative. Fair use is an absolute defense to the copyright of others.

However, there are those who would, if given the legal chance, be more than happy to copy Star Wars (or any other successful franchise). The intellectual property laws are in place to protect the originators and owners of the successful (and not so successful) products of human thought.