Origins of the Protection of Literary Authorship in Ancient Rome

77 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2007


The Rome of classical antiquity had no copyright law to protect literary works. This study shows that literary works were not for as much unprotected. This protection came, however, in another form than the strictly legal. It was effected through a system of social conventions and codes that served to protect the literary work. So effectively, in fact, that no law needed supplement them.

Plagiarized, corrupt, or unauthorized publications of literary works called forth immediate and lively opposition. The ancient Romans saw the author as having received inspiration for his or her work from the gods. It was this higher authority which determined the right to decide upon the conditions of the presentation of this work to the public. To violate this right was tantamount to violating the will of the inspiring gods. To do so might bring shame and even retribution with it.

Once the author had given form to his or her inspiration and made his or her work public, the work was given over to the public domain. From this point onwards, independent reproductions of texts, as long as they were faithful ones, met with no opposition, or even resentment from the readers and writers of the day. As the author's goal was never the making of money - considered an unworthy aim for a writer - such reproductions served the true aim of the writer - achieving immortality in the memory of his generation, and of future ones.

Keywords: Copyright, Roman Law, Open Access

JEL Classification: K00, K30, K33, K39

Suggested Citation

de la Durantaye, Katharina, Origins of the Protection of Literary Authorship in Ancient Rome. Boston University International Law Journal, Spring 2007, Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 07-139, Available at SSRN:

Katharina De la Durantaye (Contact Author)

Free University Berlin ( email )

Boltzmannstr. 3
Berlin, 14195

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