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 Crucial to this activity has been a burgeoning focus on unpublished primary sources, enabling new and stimulating insights.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 9: How art was different: Researching the history of artistic copyright

Elena Cooper


Over a decade ago, Kathy Bowrey surveyed the literature on the history of copyright and concluded that it had ‘overwhelmingly’ concerned ‘literature and not art’. Since Bowrey’s observation, a number of pieces of research have been published concerning particular developments in artistic copyright, such as the immediate background to the statutory protection of engravings in Britain in 1735 and paintings in the UK in 1862. However, it remains the case that copyright history scholarship, particularly that setting out the broad parameters of its relation to ideas of authorship and the public interest, primarily concerns literature.This chapter uncovers some of the significant ways in which the history of UK copyright concerning art was distinct from that relating to literature. The chapter begins with a review of the existing publications in the field, foregrounding the similarities and differences they note with contemporaneous developments in literary copyright, to the codification of copyright by the Copyright Act 1911. It then illustrates how artistic copyright was historically understood to be different by setting out some of the assumptions that underpinned the debate of copyright in a period so far neglected by existing publications: the late nineteenth century. At this time, artistic copyright was regulated by a series of subject specific statutes, passed during the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, concerning engraving, sculpture, painting, drawing and photography.

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