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Copyright in 1791: An Essay Concerning the Founders' View of the Copyright Power Granted to Congress in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the US Constitution


Craig Joyce


University of Houston Law Center - Institute for Intellectual Property & Information Law

L. Ray Patterson


University of Houston Law Center (Deceased)


Emory Law Journal, Vol. 52, No. 909, 2003

Abstract:     
Copyright in 1791: An Essay explores the meaning of the Copyright Clause of the United States Constitution as the Founders understood it in their own time. In his examination of the history of copyright prior to the adoption of the Constitution, Professor Joyce and his co-author, L. Ray Patterson of Georgia, consider the language of the Founders' provision for copyright against the background of Anglo-American copyright history from the 16th Century to 1787. Among their principal findings is that, to the Founders, a relatively brief term of protection, followed by entry of the work into the public domain, was a crucial element of the copyright grant required to protect against the inherent dangers of the copyright monopoly.

In addition, Copyright in 1791: An Essay uncovers for the first time the historical interrelationship between the Copyright Clause and the Free Press Clause of the First Amendment. Earlier scholars have sought to reconcile these two constitutional provisions primarily through an analysis of doctrinal considerations, such as the idea/expression dichotomy. The authors conclude that the Founders themselves saw no need for reconciliation: the two provisions already were complementary, both embodying anti-censorship, anti-monopoly values learned by the Founders from their English forebears. In short, the Copyright Clause and the Free Press Clause share a common origin.

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Date posted: June 25, 2004  

Suggested Citation

Joyce, Craig and Patterson, L. Ray, Copyright in 1791: An Essay Concerning the Founders' View of the Copyright Power Granted to Congress in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the US Constitution. Emory Law Journal, Vol. 52, No. 909, 2003. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=559145

Contact Information

Craig Joyce (Contact Author)
University of Houston Law Center - Institute for Intellectual Property & Information Law ( email )
100 Law Center
Houston, TX 77204-6060
United States
L. Ray Patterson
University of Houston Law Center (Deceased)
No Address Available
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