Past historic 5: common law copyright in England

Summer, from
James Thomson's
The Seasons
The fifth item in the little bundle of photocopied articles on IP history which this Kat researched and wrote back in the 1980s, when he was still a full-time academic, takes a look at two cases which, though never read by copyright lawyers today, can be found surprising often on students' reading lists (no -- most students don't read them either): the twin peaks of 18th copyright case law in England, Millar v Taylor and Donaldson v Beckett. It was these decisions which confirmed that, yes, there was such a thing as common law copyright but, no, it didn't survive the Act of Anne in respect of books in which the statutory term of copyright accorded to them by that Act had expired. 

Incidentally, although these two cases aren't read any more, the literary work which was the subject of the litigation in them is of some interest even today: James Thomson's The Seasons. Published in a scholarly annotated edition by the Clarendon Press, Oxford, as recently as 1981, it is now inevitably available on Google Books.

This article appeared as "Legal Outrage and Established Guile" and was first published in [1981] European Intellectual Property Review 295 to 299. You can read it in full here.
Past historic 5: common law copyright in England Past historic 5: common law copyright in England Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, November 24, 2011 Rating: 5

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