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Literary Property: Copyright's Constitutional History and Its Meaning for Today

Perspectives from FSF Scholars, Vol. 8, No. 19, July 2013

8 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2013  

Randolph J. May

The Free State Foundation

Seth L. Cooper

The Free State Foundation

Date Written: July 1, 2013

Abstract

This is the third in a series of papers exploring foundational principles of intellectual property. The efforts of Noah Webster – "The Father of Copyright" – and James Madison – "The Father of the Constitution" – are important to understanding the constitutional foundation of copyright, even though these efforts are little known by some. Separately and jointly, these two prominent figures in early American history called attention to the need for copyright protection in our newly independent nation. And, through their efforts, they played a leading role in successfully obtaining protection for copyright in several states, and, ultimately, in the U.S. Constitution.

As this paper demonstrates, recalling this oft-overlooked historical alliance between the Father of Copyright and the Father of the Constitution sheds light on the nature and meaning of copyright in our nation's fundamental law. Significantly, as the paper shows, Webster and Madison both advanced a public understanding of copyright as a form of "literary property," grounded in a person's basic right to the fruits of his or her own labor. This understanding and grounding should inform our reading of the U.S. Constitution's copyright provision and should continue to guide copyright policy today.

Keywords: Copyright, Intellectual Property, IP Clause, James Madison, Noah Webster

JEL Classification: K11, K39, L43, M13

Suggested Citation

May, Randolph J. and Cooper, Seth L., Literary Property: Copyright's Constitutional History and Its Meaning for Today (July 1, 2013). Perspectives from FSF Scholars, Vol. 8, No. 19, July 2013. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2314048

Randolph J. May (Contact Author)

The Free State Foundation ( email )

P. O. Box 60680
Potomac, MD 20859
United States
301-299-3182 (Phone)
301-299-5007 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.freestatefoundation.org

Seth L. Cooper

The Free State Foundation ( email )

P.O. Box 60680
Potomac, MD 20859
United States
301-299-3182 (Phone)
301-299-5007 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.freestatefoundation.org

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