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Law Courses Catalog

Copyright History Seminar

  • Typically offered every other year

Description: This 2 or 3 credit seminar (see below on credits) surveys and analyzes the history of copyright laws in England and the United States from approximately 1512 through 1909. The course will be a unique experience as no other law school in the United States offers such a comprehensive course. We will cover the advent of “copyright” in England from the first known exclusive printing patent in 1512 up to the enactment of the Copyright Act of 1909 in the United States. We will cover the various forms of exclusive rights that existed during this period, including royal privileges, parliamentary privileges, the copyrights of the Company of Stationers in London, copyright as a matter of judge-made law for both published and unpublished works, and statutory copyright. We will consider the normative arguments made for granting the rights in the past. Along the way, students will also be instructed on how these various rights were enforced in the courts of law and equity in England and the United States, and why the history remains relevant normatively and doctrinally for lawsuits filed today.

The course materials will include excerpts from law reviews and books on the subject, and reported cases from England and the United States during the period. Unlike other courses, much of the material will also be taken from primary sources which have never been published before. The course will make use of the instructor’s vast database of original manuscript records from England which he has collected in the last three years during visits to the National Archives in London. The course will also have a multimedia aspect to it. Students will be shown, in class, actual images of the original parchment documents that we are studying.

Any student who has an interest in intellectual property, copyright, legal history, or remedies should find the seminar intellectually stimulating and useful.

The seminar will be evaluated either by an exam or by a 30 - 40 page paper that will qualify for the Capstone requirement. The paper must be on either a legal history topic, or an intellectual property topic, but it need not be on copyright history per se. The decision to sit for an exam or write a paper must be made by the student by the second week of class.

Credits: The class meets once a week for 2 hours. Students who sit for the exam will receive 2 credits. Students who write a capstone paper can choose to add a separate 1-credit independent study, for a total of 3 credits.

Prerequisites: None

Meets the Capstone writing requirement