The Struggle for Music Copyright

56 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2005

See all articles by Michael W. Carroll

Michael W. Carroll

American University Washington College of Law


Inspired by passionate contemporary debates about music copyright, this Article investigates how, when, and why music first came within copyright's domain. Ironically, although music publishers and recording companies are among the most aggressive advocates for strong copyright in music today, music publishers in eighteenth-century England resisted extending copyright to music. This Article sheds light on a series of early legal disputes concerning printed music that yield important insights into original understandings of copyright law and music's role in society. By focusing attention on this understudied episode, this Article demonstrates that the concept of copyright was originally far more circumscribed than it is today and that music - which currently is treated as core copyrightable subject matter - presented a difficult case. A number of audiences will benefit from a better understanding of the struggle over music copyright, including scholars who advance general theories about the evolution of property rights and policymakers seeking to place the current disputes over music copyright in historical perspective.

Keywords: music copyright, copyright law, property rights

Suggested Citation

Carroll, Michael W., The Struggle for Music Copyright. Villanova Law/Public Policy Research Paper No. 2005-7, Available at SSRN:

Michael W. Carroll (Contact Author)

American University Washington College of Law ( email )

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Washington, DC 20016
United States
202-274-4047 (Phone)
202-730-4756 (Fax)


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