Table of Contents

Research Handbook on the History of Copyright Law

Research Handbook on the History of Copyright Law

Research Handbooks in Intellectual Property series

Edited by Isabella Alexander and H. Tomás Gómez-Arostegui

There has been an explosion of interest in recent years regarding the origin and of intellectual property law. The study of copyright history, in particular, has grown remarkably in the last twenty years, with a flurry of activity in the last ten. Crucial to this activity has been a burgeoning focus on unpublished primary sources, enabling new and stimulating insights. This Handbook takes stock of the field of copyright history as it stands today, as well as examining potential developments in the future.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Isabella Alexander and H. Tomás Gómez-Arostegui

Subjects: law - academic, intellectual property law


The study of copyright’s history dates back almost to the birth of copyright as a statutory construct. First emerging during the common law copyright debates of the eighteenth century, and featuring prominently in the lawyer’s texts of the nineteenth century, historical narratives of copyright moved outside the legal academy in the twentieth century to capture the interest of book historians, literary scholars and economic historians. Over the last three decades the interest has grown to the extent that copyright history is clearly a discrete and popular field of academic inquiry, and the tercentenary of the Statute of Anne was celebrated with gusto around the globe in 2009 and 2010 (depending on dating preference). Another key indicator of this flourishing field was the launch, in March 2008, of the Primary Sources on Copyright (1450–1900) digital archive, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. For seven years, this collection has proven a boon without peer for those already working in the area, and more so for those seeking insight into copyright history but without the time or resources to immerse themselves in the physical archives. It is therefore an opportune moment to take stock of the field of copyright history, as it stands today, and how it might develop in the future.