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I’ve always enjoyed movies, but I’ve never been particularly a movie buff, and I haven’t been particularly knowledgeable about the origins of motion pictures. However, in the past few years I’ve had a chance to become more knowledgable about them, and especially about the first 18 years of their registration at the Library of Congress (and then the Copyright Office at the Library). This has been hastened by working with Claudy Op Den Camp to help research her section in the new collection (which she also co-edited) “A History of Intellectual Property in 50 Objects.”
The book is wonderful and highly recommended, and but I wanted to share some of the research that didn’t make it in – especially about how the forms of registration were chosen, and some of the additional legal history of how motion pictures were finally added to the copyright law in their own category in 1912. So keep reading for more!Read More
We tend to assume that past policymakers, especially in the copyright arena, were ignorant of the possibilities of a technological future. But I’ve found that many times Congress and other policymakers were better informed than we tend to assume. Take for instance the hearings on CONTU, or the Copyright Office being shown how the web worked while it was still in its infancy. Another example is the Congressional Copyright and Technology Seminar, held in February 1984, where members of Congress and other policymakers were educated by a group of technologists on what they saw as the coming future of technology and how it would relate to IP law. This symposium had been preceded by a hearing on Copyright and Technological Change in July of 1983.
The proceedings of this conference have long been available in transcript form, but I’ve been able to find the video, digitized by the Library of Congress Motion Picture Division, and I’m pleased to share it below. Note that the was originally on 16 U-Matic videocassettes, I’ve edited the videos together myself, so there may be occasional jumps (you can refer to the transcript for gaps).
Day 1 – February 4, 1984
Day 2 – February 5, 1984
A schedule of the event’s proceedings follows:Read More
“An honest publisher and a lucky author, for the copyright made her fortune, and the ‘dull book’ was the first golden egg of the ugly duckling.” – Louisa May Alcott, 1885
With a new movie version coming out, Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women is once again in the news, often with some conversation of how Alcott’s publisher urged her to keep the copyright in her work, earning her a fortune. But the story of her copyright is rarely explored beyond that, and I think it’s an interesting one, in that it spans multiple eras of copyright history in a way only a few other works did. It’s also a useful research case study for those interested in using copyright records for historical and literary research. I’ll admit I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m told that it has a great scene about copyright – I’ll have to check it out.
I’m also informed that the Library of Congress has an exhibition of some of the copyright deposits made by Louisa May Alcott, catch it while it’s still up. The discussion continues below…Read More
As I’ve been researching lost copyright records from the District Courts (AKA pre-1870 copyright records), I’ve found that the “Inventories of Federal Archives in the States” done by the WPA are invaluable. Series 2 – federal court records – is especially important to those interested in legal history, tracking where things were before it was accessioned to the National Archives (which was only created a few years earlier). In many cases these are more detailed than the National Archives Finding Aids, and/or describe material which didn’t make it to the National Archives.
The usefulness of these inventories is focused in cases like Ohio, where the 1829-1842 copyright record book is listed in the inventory, but hasn’t been seen since. I haven’t yet located this record book (and may not), but having a reference of where things were before the transfer to the National Archives is invaluable, even if occasionally frustrating. Given that these inventories are generally available online but haven’t been organized in one place, I decided to provide such a resource – for my own purposes as well as to help others. In many cases there’s a survey note as well, for instance this is the survey note on the now-missing Ohio copyright record book.
A preliminary checklist was prepared of all inventories produced for this project, which I’ve scanned and reproduced here. Note that Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states and thus were not included. The manual for creating these inventories is also available, here. The Research Bibliography of WPA Publications also lists these, should it be helpful.
Also, although it wasn’t part of the WPA’s inventory, the 1962 inventory of records of the US Supreme Court is here. The list of states follows below the jump.Read More
Over the past decade I’ve researched and written about the history of a fair number of U.S. Supreme Court cases, mostly in the IP field. Over this time I’ve learned a fair bit about what resources are available, and also recently
procrastinated a writing project and developed a research tool to make finding the case file number much quicker. All the places you can go (that I know of) to learn more about a case are below – and if there’s things I learn (or just forgot to mention) I’ll add to this as time goes on.
Note that all the steps below aren’t necessary in all cases, and there are often additional possible steps as well. This is meant as a general guide, not as an exhaustive one. Also, many of the steps outlined here can apply to State Supreme, State and Federal Appellate, and trial and administrative adjudications. There’s been so much digitized in the past two decades; the time required to take many of these steps is surprisingly minimal.Read More
I posted recently about Banks v. Manchester and Callaghan v. Myers, the two 1888 cases about copyright in judicial opinions. However, as I noted, the issue is anchored by the 1834 Supreme Court case of Wheaton v. Peters, the first copyright case the Court took, and the wellspring of law regarding the uncopyrightability of legal opinions. With oral argument in Georgia v. Public Resource on the horizon, I wanted to share some more of my findings regarding Wheaton. Read More
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear argument in Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org Inc. in about two months, with petitioner’s briefs already in, and respondent’s briefs were submitted yesterday. The question presented is fairly simple and a matter of law – “Whether the government edicts doctrine [(that they are not protectable by copyright)] extends to—and thus renders uncopyrightable—works that lack the force of law, such as the annotations in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated.”
As the 11th Circuit noted below, in holding that the annotations could not be protected by copyright, the Supreme Court addressed this question three times in the nineteenth century, but not since. Those three cases will be what the Supreme Court will be basing its decision on, but two of them are quite obscure. So as not to bury the lede, the archival contribution of this post is that I’ve scanned the briefs from one of these cases – Banks v. Manchester – and shared them online (the other two were already available)- you can access them here. I also scanned the case file from the U.S. National Archives, comprising mainly correspondence between the parties and the Court – you can download the PDF here. Read More
While everyone eagerly awaits the next full post here, I wanted to share a video I found of Irwin Karp, “legendary and curmudgeonly counsel for the Authors Guild and Authors League,”1 talking about the process of drafting and negotiating what would become the 1976 Copyright Act. There’s extensive discussion in particular about the fair use provisions at what would become 17 USC 107, and the lack of a general exception for educational purposes. Digitization by Library of Congress Motion Picture Division.
Greetings from INTA 2019 in Boston! It’s been a few months since a post, entirely my own fault of course, but today is a good day to bring readers something new – the Copyright Office announced 55 years ago today (May 19, 1964) that they would begin accepting registrations of software copyrights. This was of course an enormously consequential decision, and while it has been written about before, as far as I know a proper history of the era has yet to be written (Pam Samuelson’s article The Uneasy Case for Software Copyrights Revisited has a lot of useful material on the subject though). As such, I thought I’d provide a few aspects of the early story of software copyrights that some may not be aware of.Read More