The Illustrated Story of Copyright

Review by Jane C. Ginsburg,
Morton L. Janklow Professor of Literary and Artistic Property Law,
Columbia University School of Law

        In 1995, the President's Commission on the National Information Infrastructure urged educating school children about copyright and respect for authors' property interests. At the time, many critics derided the recommendation as pernicious brain washing. In 2000, Napster has shown the costs to authors and copyright owners of widespread disregard of property rights in creative works, particularly among users who were of school age in 1995. Copyright is often seen--if it is considered at all--as an impediment to personal enjoyment, or as the engine of corporate greed. In this hostile environment, Professor Edward Samuels' The Illustrated Story of Copyright,written to be accessible to college and high school audiences, is a welcome corrective. Professor Samuels does not hide his basic sympathy for copyright law and its objectives, but his account strives to be even-handed. His book educates without preaching, and the many illustrations entertain instructively.
        The book has the "look" of college and secondary school textbooks, replete with sidebars and evocative drawings and photographs. The organization is first historical, and then doctrinal. Rather than tracing the history of copyright law in general, the first part of Professor Samuels' book examines the history of technological innovations in the creation and communication of works of authorship, and explores copyright's evolution in response to those developments. Only in the second part of the book does he give full coverage to the copyright law in general. In putting technology first, Professor Samuels has found an engaging way to introduce the subject to non lawyers (as well as to law students and lawyers not previously inclined toward copyright). The relationship between copyright and technology has always been a close, even parental, one. (Professor Paul Goldstein has observed that "Copyright was technology's child from the start.") Professor Samuels' guided tour of that relationship brings to life the inventors, investors, authors and users whose sometimes competing interests shaped the often complicated contours of modern copyright law. The tour, incidentally, does not trace a triumphal march of copyright law toward ever more protective heights. Professor Samuels is candid, and even sometimes abashed, about copyright owners' occasional misjudgments and overreaching, with results that sometimes disfavor copyright, and sometimes, despite cries to the contrary, work to copyright owners' advantage.
        The second half of the book neatly summarizes copyright basics, with reference to leading cases in each area, from subject matter through exceptions and rights related to copyright. Best of all (at least for other copyright professors and students), illustrations accompany almost every case recounted. Photograph after photograph, I found I could not suppress the thrill of recognition: "So that'swhat the work looked like in the [such-and-such] case!" The chapter on international copyright reminds us that while today we champion strong copyright protection around the world, for our first hundred and more years as a republic, we were notorious copyright pirates. Prof. Samuels accumulates the laments of Dickens, Trollope, and other English authors deprived of protection here. Equally importantly, reproductions of contemporary documents, including a petition signed by Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman urging the U.S. to join an international copyright agreement, poignantly illustrate the harm our own authors suffered when pirated English novels undersold domestic literary product. Finally, the Afterword, "Creativity Wants to be Paid," brings us back to the theme of copyright and technological progress, concluding with an eloquent plea for the recognition of copyright's role in promoting the arts and humanities.

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