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New Working Paper – Fifteen Years of Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900): Changing World Views and What Comes Next

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New Working Paper – Fifteen Years of Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900): Changing World Views and What Comes Next

By 21 February 2024No Comments

CREATe is happy to present the second entry in our series of working papers released in 2024, “Fifteen Years of Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900): Changing World Views and What Comes Next” edited by Lionel Bently (CIPIL, University of Cambridge), Martin Kretschmer (CREATe, University of Glasgow) and Elena Cooper (CREATe, University of Glasgow).

In March 2008, a conference was held at Stationers’ Hall, London, to launch the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded digital archive Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900). Edited by Lionel Bently and Martin Kretschmer, the archive in 2008 contained 5 national sections with initially 50 key source documents and original commentaries, each overseen by a specialist national editor: Ronan Deazley for Britain/UK, Friedemann Kawohl for German speaking countries/German Empire, Frédéric Rideau for France, Joanna Kostyło for Italy and Oren Bracha the United States. Since that time, Primary Sources on Copyright has grown in its reach, such that it now also includes sections for Spain (José Bellido), the Netherlands (Stef van Gompel and Marius Buning), Jewish law sources (Neil Netanel), Portugal and Brazil (Patricia Akester and Victor Drummond), the Vatican (Jane Ginsburg) and Scandinavia (Marius Bruning). Supplementary material has also been added to the French and UK sections about copyright and the visual arts by Katie Scott and Elena Cooper. The addition of further documents to the UK section, looking specifically at Scottish perspectives on copyright history and edited by Amy Thomas, is anticipated for 2024-5.

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Primary Sources on Copyright is currently hosted by CREATe, and in October 2023, a conference was held in Glasgow, to celebrate fifteen years of the archive. The conference was endorsed by the International Society for the History and Theory of Intellectual Property (‘ISHTIP’) which shares a common root: the Stationers’ Hall 2008 conference was also the occasion for ISHTIP’s foundation. The Glasgow conference in October 2023, comprised two days of research presentations by national editors, discussion as to the future of the archive, as well as an evening public lecture – Fifteen Years of Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900): Changing World Views and What Comes Next – in which Bently and Kretschmer convened a conversation with a panel of national editors from all over the globe: Patricia Akester, José Bellido, Marius Buning, Elena Cooper, Victor Drummond, Joanna Kostyło, Magne Klasson, Jane Ginsburg, Friedemann Kawohl, Frédéric Rideau, Katie Scott and Stef van Gompel.

This Working Paper comprises a record of that public lecture, which was the occasion for debate about not just ‘what comes next’ for the archive, but also to reflect on the future trajectory of copyright history as a discipline. In the past three decades, copyright history has become a burgeoning intellectual field, and Primary Sources has created a focus for an international and interdisciplinary scholarly community. At the time of writing, there is scholarly impetus to take further what has been learnt from unearthing and extensively documenting primary sources.

After almost 30 years of sustained scholarly investment, of which Primary Sources on Copyright has played a central role, are we on the brink of a New History of Copyright? For instance, do copyright’s origins in privileges still matter? As copyright history scholarship has become more empirical, what can we learn about the law in action, from documents about contracts and practices? What perspectives are offered by histories of copyright focussing on media other than books (e.g. visual art and drama)? What patterns can we identify about transnational flows in ideas between national jurisdictions, as opposed to structuring knowledge around perceived ‘national traditions’? How was copyright adapted, refracted and resisted through processes of colonisation, and how do those perspectives differ depending on the status of the colony in question? What new and critical perspectives can we glean about the influence of the romantic author on the history of copyright, and are there implications for the arrival of AI technologies today? These are some of the bigger questions to which we should now turn.

Fifteen Years of Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900): Changing World Views and What Comes Next

Lionel Bently, Martin Kretschmer and Elena Cooper (eds.); Patricia Akester, José Bellido, Marius Buning, Victor Drummond, Jane Ginsburg, Friedemann Kawohl, Joanna Kostyło, Frédéric Rideau, Katie Scott and Stef van Gompel

CREATe Working Paper 2024/02


This working paper presents an edited transcript of a public lecture delivered at CREATe, University of Glasgow, on 16 October 2023, celebrating fifteen years of the digital archive Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900) edited by Lionel Bently and Martin Kretschmer.** The archive charts the history of copyright from the advent of the printing press to 1900, through the selection, digitisation and analysis of primary source material by an ever-growing team of ‘national editors’. When launched in 2008, the archive contained five sections (UK/Britain, France, Italy, German speaking countries, US). It has since expanded, through the addition of new sections (Spain, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, the Vatican, Jewish legal sources, Portugal and Brazil) and as well as further material for two original sections (UK and France). As Primary Sources on Copyright continues to expand – new Scottish material for the UK section is anticipated in 2024-25 – a panel of eleven national editors met in Glasgow in October 2023, publicly to debate questions posed by Bently and Kretschmer, about the archive’s future.

Full paper can be downloaded here.