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The Statute of Anne: "An Act for the Encouragement of Learning"

300 years ago Saturday, the Statute of Anne created the first modern system of copyright.

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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Penny Black Printing Press in a British Library Hallway (London, England)300 years ago Saturday, the Statute of Anne created the first modern system of copyright. A few fun facts about the Act:

  • Violating copyright was defined as “infringement,” not “theft” (and remains so today).
  • Before the Act, printers, not authors, were the ones granted monopoly rights over works.
  • The United States, before and after the Act, was the source of many illicit reprints of British texts–since America did not get similar copyright rules until much later.
  • Copyright was designed to create an incentive to create, but to still permit an eventual public benefit by expanding the public domain.

Want more discussion on how copyright ought to function? To commemorate the anniversary, the British Council asked just that question:

The world’s first copyright law was passed by the English Parliament on 10 April 1710 as ‘An Act for the Encouragement of Learning’. Its 300th anniversary provides a unique opportunity to review copyright’s purposes and principles.  If today we were starting from scratch, but with the same aim of encouraging learning‚ what kind of copyright would we want?

via Copyright 1710-2010 « Counterpoint.

There are a number of interesting ideas in there that are worth thinking about, including: