Walter v. Lane (1900)
Walter v. Lane (1900), Landmark Cases In Intellectual Property Law, ch. 7 (Jose Bellido ed., Hart Publishing 2017), Forthcoming
28 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2017 Last revised: 17 Feb 2017
Date Written: February 6, 2017
Originality is a cornerstone of contemporary copyright law; in order to receive protection, works must be ‘original’. One of the persistent challenges for the courts has been identifying when a copy of a work can itself be an original work. This question of protecting copies of other works arose before originality was even a statutory requirement. In the seminal case of Walter v. Lane (1900), the House of Lords decided that verbatim reports in The Times of speeches given by the politician Lord Rosebery were protected under the existing copyright legislation. Walter v. Lane is a seminal copyright case still cited in 21st-century judgments. But it was also a principled personal conflict, with the Bodley Head publisher John Lane (1854-1925) and Liberal editor Charles Geake (1867-1919) on one side and Charles Frederic Moberly Bell (1847-1911), the Managing Director of The Times, on the other. This feud caused embarrassment and upset to Lord Rosebery himself, a friend to both Moberly Bell and Geake, who found himself caught in the middle. This chapter examines the legal and personal context of Walter v. Lane and challenges other interpretations of its holding. It argues that the primary legacy of the case comes from the principle that the law should protect works that are products of editing, re-creation, preservation, conservation, or reconstruction where they are the result of intellectual skill and labour and there exists a public interest in the relevant acts of copying.
Keywords: intellectual property, copyright, copyright history, originality, newspapers
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