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 Crucial to this activity has been a burgeoning focus on unpublished primary sources, enabling new and stimulating insights.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 17: ‘Cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in’: Copyright in the Australian colonies

Catherine Bond


In an 1881 piece for colonial periodical The Victorian Review, lawyer John Finnamore employed the language of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth to describe the pitiful state of Victorian and Imperial copyright law at the time, stating that it ‘cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in’ authors in the Australian colonies. This comment, and Finnamore’s Victorian Review piece more generally, are notable for three reasons. First, it is unusual that a lawyer would quote Shakespeare, but this reference, and others to Shakespeare’s career in the piece, indicates the broader symbolic and cultural arguments that Finnamore was attempting to advance in his article. Second, Finnamore’s account is one of only a handful of articles written before the twenty-first century to discuss or even mention colonial copyright law in Australia. Academic interest in the copyright laws of the Australian colonies is relatively recent, with the bulk of this work emerging over the previous decade. To date, that scholarship has focused mainly on the role and influence of Imperial law, particularly the extent to which colonial legislatures and courts believed United Kingdom (‘UK’) copyright legislation, particularly the Copyright Act 1842 (UK), applied locally, and, when local statutes were introduced by individual colonies from 1869 onwards, the influence that Imperial statutes had on the writing on those local laws.

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