Copyright Law Timeline

[Gutenberg]More than 500 years have passed since the invention
of moveable type prompted the need for copyright
protection. Here are some highlights in the evolution
of copyright law:
1440s
After Gutenberg invents the printing press, the British government begins a form of copyright, which is intended to control what printers can publish.
1556
The British Crown grants the Stationers' Company a monopoly on printing, mainly to limit the Protestant Reformation by blocking heretical writings.

1600s
Pressured by growing private commercial interests, the British government gradually gives up its copyright control to authors and publishers.

1710
The Statute of Anne is the first statute to recognize the rights of authors. Authors win the exclusive right, renewable after 14 years, to publish their new works.

1789
The U.S. Constitution recognizes intellectual property. Article 1, Section 8 empowers Congress "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

1790
The first U.S. federal copyright law protects the author of any "book, map or chart" for a renewable term of 14 years.

1802
Protection of prints is added.

1831
Protection of musical compositions is added.

1865
Protection of photographs is added.

1870
Protection of paintings is added.

1909
The federal copyright law is revised due to developing technology.

1976
After 20 years of study, Congress adopts the Copyright Revision Act of 1976. Leaps in technology, including motion picture, phonograph, radio, television and photocopier, had strained previous copyright protections.

1978
The 1976 Act goes into effect. Authors can better control the use of their work. Federal copyright law preempts state copyright law, making it more uniform.

1989
U.S. becomes a signatory of the Berne Convention, the most extensive international copyright agreement among nations.

1990
Congress passes the Visual Artist Rights Act, which protects artists' rights of attribution and integrity. Covers paintings, drawings, photographs, prints and sculpture.

Sources:
Kent R. Middleton and Bill F. Chamberlain, "The Law of Public Communication," Longman 1988.
"Pricing and Ethical Guidelines," Graphic Artists Guild Inc. 1991.

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Copyright Jane Medley 1996