Rethinking Copyright
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Rethinking Copyright

History, Theory, Language

Ronan Deazley

This book provides the reader with a critical insight into the history and theory of copyright within contemporary legal and cultural discourse. It exposes as myth the orthodox history of the development of copyright law in eighteenth-century Britain and explores the way in which that myth became entrenched throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To this historical analysis are added two theoretical approaches to copyright not otherwise found in mainstream contemporary texts. Rethinking Copyright introduces the reader to copyright through the prism of the public domain before turning to the question as to how best to locate copyright within the parameters of traditional property discourse. Moreover, underpinning these various historical and theoretical strands, the book explores the constitutive power of legal writing and the place of rhetoric in framing and determining contemporary copyright policy and discourse.
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Chapter 1: History I: 1710–1774

Ronan Deazley


The passing of the Statute of Anne in April 1710 marked a historic moment in the development of copyright. As the world’s first copyright statute it provided a legal protection of 14 years for works published after the commencement of the Act,1 as well as a 21-year protection for any works already in print.2 Compared with the 15 years prior to the Act, in which there had been no legislative protection available to the book trade,3 the statute ushered in a period of relative security for the London booksellers.4 The Act, however, was not entirely the legislative panacea which the booksellers had sought. While it did provide a property in books to bring stability to an insecure book trade, at the same time it introduced measures to try to ensure that no monopolistic abuses could be brought to bear upon that trade.5 More generally however, the legislation had a much broader social focus and remit, one that concerned the reading public, the continued production of useful literature, and the advancement and spread of education. The central plank of the Statute of Anne was then, and remains, a social quid pro quo. To encourage ‘learned Men to compose and write useful Books’ the State would provide a guaranteed, if 1 An Act for the Encouragement of Learning by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned 1709, 8 Anne, c. 19, s. 1 (Statute of Anne); if the...

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