Copyright Pioneers

5(1) W.I.P.O. Journal 118-126 (2013)

13 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2013 Last revised: 16 Apr 2017

See all articles by Michael Birnhack

Michael Birnhack

Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law

Date Written: August 14, 2013


How did ordinary authors, publishers, copyright owners, and users act and interact within a particular, copyright setting? The historical view of the everyday life of copyright law — the way the law operated in practice — has by and large gone under the radar of mainstream copyright history. Missing from this picture is the micro-level: the nuanced, fragmented, perhaps messy or mundane, local dealings with copyright. Applied to the law, microhistory queries not only the law and its direct history, or the particulars of a judicial decision. A microhistorian legal analysis asks about the context of the events surrounding a case, or about a specific person, trying to better figure out the political, social, and cultural meanings of the developments, going beyond the inevitably limited contours of the judicial opinion or legislation.

Applying the microhistorian lens to copyright law can yield yet-unobserved elements of the big picture, supplementing our understanding of the making and application of the law. The study of specific events can offer explanations for such gaps. By exposing the messiness of the law, micro-analysis supplements or challenges the macro picture. This article suggests that we pay more attention to the people who engaged with copyright in their everyday life: the less powerful authors and publishers, who were not necessarily involved in a major litigation. More specifically, the article wishes to draw attention to authors or intermediaries that changed the law in some aspect, but who acted on their own behalf, protecting or promoting their own interests, rather than under an official role or as self-designated activists. These are copyright pioneers. While they did not necessarily seek a broader change, their engagement with copyright has nevertheless brought such change. I illustrate the relevance of such a lens, by two short case studies from Mandate Palestine (1917-48).

Keywords: copyright, history, microhistory, Mandate Palestine, authorship

Suggested Citation

Birnhack, Michael D., Copyright Pioneers (August 14, 2013). 5(1) W.I.P.O. Journal 118-126 (2013), Available at SSRN:

Michael D. Birnhack (Contact Author)

Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law ( email )

Ramat Aviv
Tel Aviv, 69978
+972-3-640-6623 (Phone)

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