Research Handbook on the History of Copyright Law
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Research Handbook on the History of Copyright Law

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 Crucial to this activity has been a burgeoning focus on unpublished primary sources, enabling new and stimulating insights.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.
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Chapter 3: Law, aesthetics and copyright historiography: A critical reading of the genealogies of Martha Woodmansee and Mark Rose

Kathy Bowrey


This chapter discusses the importance of Martha Woodmansee’s The Author, Art and the Market and Mark Rose’s Authors and Owners to the history of copyright. My ambition is to use these works as a springboard to open up a broader discussion about the disciplinary boundaries of copyright historiography in order to reflect upon some of the reasons for the limited disciplinary exchange between humanities and law in Anglo scholarship. In detailing late eighteenth century refinements of German aesthetics that come to inform the notion of authorship, Woodmansee shows the importance of understanding the interplay between philosophy, materiality and the law. She shows how the conditions facing authors in literary markets in the late eighteenth century led to a disciplinary exchange that ultimately affected the character of the aesthetic project, the development of copyright law and the cultural reception of the idea of authorship. However Woodmansee’s history does not detail how aesthetics came to life within the law. Whereas Woodmansee offers a genealogy of aesthetics, Rose is interested in setting out the genealogy of the ‘author as owner’. Rose chooses the literary property debates that culminate in the leading case of Donaldson v Becket (1774), which he argues was key to establishing the notion of the author as proprietor. As philosophy is primarily addressed through the prism of the legal arguments and political advocacy Rose’s work is, perhaps, an easier read than Woodmansee for legal scholars.

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