Book Review, Western Carolina University College of Business by Dan Clapper


Title:  The Illustrated Story of Copyright


Author:  Edward Samuels


Length:  293 pages


Price:  $40.00


Reading time: 20 hours


Reading rating: 4 (1 = very hard, 10 = very easy)


Overall rating: 4 stars (1 = average, 4 = outstanding)


Information wants to be free! The Internet changes everything! Copyright

is dead! It is hard to avoid pronouncements like this these days, and

it’s tempting to casually assume them to be reality.  After all, surely

something as archaic and low-tech as copyright law is doomed in its

ability to keep up with the ever-increasing changes brought about by

technology.  So is it only a matter of time before the Internet results in

the end of copyright law?


The Illustrated Story of Copyright by Edward Samuels is an excellent

source for some answers to this question.  The author is a law professor

at New York Law School and taught and researched copyright law for twenty

five years.  Generally this could be an indicator that the book is not

going to be an easy one to read, but in this case the author has created a

surprisingly enjoyable, entertaining and easy to read book. 


The secret of Samuels’ success is his liberal use of interesting

illustrations, his lightly humorous tone and a focus--particularly in

the first half of the book--on the stories behind the making of

copyright law.  It turns out that copyright law itself has gone through

some revolutions in the last two hundred years and behind many of those

changes are some funny, sad, and interesting stories of the creative men

and women whose work led to the legal battles and congressional actions

that make up current copyright law.


Part One of the book is “Copyright and Technology” and tells these

stories engagingly in respective chapters on:  Books and other literary

works, Music and sound recordings, Movies and television, the Computer,

and the Internet.  Without getting lost in the legal details, the author

nicely illustrates the need for copyright as a means to encourage the

creativity that benefits our society. 


Part Two of the book is “Copyright Basics” and represents a more in

depth exploration of such issues as what copyright protects, what rights

copyright grants and limitations of copyright.  This part gets more into

the legal details and less into the stories so it is a more difficult read

than Part One, but still well done.


So has the Internet destroyed copyright?  In the conclusion to the book

Samuels suggests that although information may want to be free, creativity

wants to be paid.  As a patron to the arts, the author suggests,

copyright does more to support the arts and humanities than all of the

federal grants, subsidies, and private philanthropies put together, and on

a much more egalitarian basis.


One of the most important insights to be gained from this book is an

historical perspective on the way copyright law has evolved over the past

two hundred years.  Yes the Internet is new, but the threat of new

technology is not new at all.  In fact, it is probably more accurate to

say that the history of copyright law is the history of new technology

threatening the current status quo and copyright law adapting to these



From this historical perspective, the issues currently in the news do not

sound the death knoll for copyright protection at all.  In fact, the

author presents a compelling argument that copyright law will adapt to

these new technology challenges.  It will do this for the simple reason

that the fundamental purpose of copyright, to encourage the creation of

new artistic works by rewarding the creators of those works, remains as

important and viable today as it was two hundred years ago.  That’s a

perspective that is refreshing and illuminating as we work through the

process of adapting and adjusting to the revolution and evolutionary

changes brought about by the Internet.


-Dan Clapper is an associate professor of computer information systems in

the College of Business at Western Carolina University.  He teaches

application development for both the desktop and World Wide Web

environments. For previously reviewed books, visit our web site at


Back to home page
Back to Reviews page
To site map