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 Crucial to this activity has been a burgeoning focus on unpublished primary sources, enabling new and stimulating insights.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 14: The public international law of copyright and related rights

Sam Ricketson

Subjects: law - academic, intellectual property law


Much of the historical scholarship concerned with copyright deals with developments at the national level. Such work is inevitably both rewarding and illuminating – knowledge of the past is always helpful in understanding the present, or at the very least explaining how we got here, and in providing pointers to possible future courses of action. But this historical perspective also has a wider international context that is helpful for the obtaining of a fuller understanding: even the most superficial account of national copyright laws will reveal the significant effect that international obligations have had upon the development of those laws and the broader policies underlying them. The purpose of the present chapter is to provide a brief sketch of this wider horizon, and to alert readers to the wealth of historical materials and scholarship that can be drawn upon in reaching a workable understanding of the dimensions of international copyright protection and its interaction with national laws. It therefore begins with a short overview of the public international law landscape, in particular the gradual move from bilateralism to multilateralism, with some commentary on the way in which treaty obligations are to be interpreted and applied at the national level. It then moves to a consideration of the wide range of sources and other materials that are available for scholars working in this area, including the preparatory materials of revision conferences, international journals and commentaries, national government records, and the proceedings of relevant non-governmental international organizations.

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