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Hackers and Humanists: Transactions and the Evolution of Copyright

54 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2014  

Rebecca Curtin

Suffolk University Law School

Date Written: 2013


This article examines the way in which two transactions have influenced copyright culture and informed copyright policy, free software licenses in our own time and contracts for authors’ rights starting in the sixteenth century. Often, a copyright holder uses contracts to increase the control it has over a work after distribution. In these two transactions, copyright holders opted for less control over the work than the then-current copyright regime allowed. The experience of sharing rights with other stakeholders in each of these cases played a role in changing ideas about how expressive works are best created and distributed. Though early copyright generally belonged to publishers, not authors, nascent contracts that gave authors some rights in their work aided in the rise of the idea of the author as the sole creator, and eventually the copyright holder, of literary works in print. Free software licenses have been at the forefront of a revolution turning in virtually the opposite direction, championing the value of collaboration and giving the user a role in continuing the life of an expressive work. Through comparative analysis of the history of each transaction, the article describes the conditions under which extraordinary transactions like these are likely to develop and how they help to change the fundamental assumptions that underlie copyright protection. The analogy between the contracts for authors’ rights and free software licenses over time suggests that we are in the midst of a rise of the collaborative user every bit as important to the culture of copyright as was the rise of the author.

Suggested Citation

Curtin, Rebecca, Hackers and Humanists: Transactions and the Evolution of Copyright (2013). IDEA: The IP Law Review, Vol. 54, p. 105, 2013; Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 14-10. Available at SSRN:

Rebecca Curtin (Contact Author)

Suffolk University Law School ( email )

120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States

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