Edited by Isabella Alexander and H. Tomás Gómez-Arostegui
Chapter 4: The ‘romantic’ author
Authorship is one of the central interests of literary scholars. It is an interest we share with lawyers and legal scholars specializing in copyright, for ‘authorship’ lies at the very center of this body of law. It is the term of art for the diverse modes of creative production that it is the function of copyright to promote. ‘Authorship’ acquired its legal meaning in the rich interdisciplinary – better, pre-disciplinary – theoretical milieu of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. With the subsequent specialization of the disciplines, however, conversation between legal and literary theory waned, with the result that the two disciplines have since been grappling more or less independently with the same body of ideas. My aim in this chapter is to spur greater interdisciplinary reflection on the nature of authorship. This is important because it is due in significant measure to the antiquated understanding of authorship at the center of copyright that this body of law so often misfires – that it distributes property in ideas in ways that few today accept as fair or rational. I first sketch the history of thinking about authorship, identifying a pre-modern moment extending deep into the eighteenth century and then the Romantic turn that has given us our modern vision thereof. Then, drawing on research undertaken in collaboration with Peter Jaszi, I sketch the absorption of Romantic ideology into British copyright law and subsequent international agreements culminating in the Berne Convention of 1886.
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