Copyrighting Culture: The Political Economy of Intellectual Property

By Ronald V. Bettig | Go to book overview
Save to active project

explicitly that it did not intend to prohibit publication and sale of works in the United States that were first written, printed, or published abroad. Ploman and Hamilton argued that this piracy provision can be seen "as the action of a developing country to protect its burgeoning culture while exploiting the cultural products of more developed nations."120

However, it was again not immediately clear after passage of the Act whether the author's common law copyright had been supplanted. The notion of natural rights in inventive and intellectual creativity was losing its resonance by the early nineteenth century. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed this tension in Wheaton v. Peters ( 1834), which set the terms for U.S. copyright protection for the next 150 years. The Wheaton decision drew heavily from Donaldson v. Beckett, concluding that copyright was a statutory right created by Congress and was "secured" by following the formalities of registration, notice, and deposit.121 The Court thereby rejected the notion that an inventor or author had a perpetual right in the patent or copyright as well as the idea that certain legal rights of authors are retained even after publication. In reaching its decision, the Court framed copyright litigation as a matter of protecting the copyright owner's exclusive rights to exploit and profit from effort and risk put into the work versus protecting public access to literary creativity.

By concluding that copyright was a statutory right of limited duration, the Court struck against the notion of unlimited monopoly that a natural, perpetual right implied. Thus, once the statutory period of protection expired, the published, copyrighted works passed into the public domain. An author did retain a common law copyright, but only as long as the work remained unpublished. This fact again highlights the central role of capital in bringing a work to the public, a process through which the publisher takes control of and benefits the most from the author's copyright privileges. This pattern is subsequently replicated as copyright law is extended each time a new form or medium of artistic and literary creativity and expression is developed and deployed, from etched and engraved prints in 1802 to computer software programs in 1980. The result has been the concentration of ownership of the copyrights to cultural and literary artifacts with the highest exchange value in the hands of the capitalist class, which will be demonstrated in the next chapter.

Bruce Bugbee, The Genesis of American Patent and Copyright Law, Washington, DC: Public Affairs Press, 1967; Lyman Patterson, Copyright in Historical Perspective, Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968; George Putnam, "Literary Property: An Historical Sketch", in G. Putnam (ed.), The Question of Copyright, New York: Knickerbocker, 1896, pp. 351-411; Royce F. Whale, Copyright, London: Longman, 1971.
Patterson, p. 223.
Harold Innis, Empire and Communication, New York: Oxford University Press, 1950; Harold Innis, The Bias of Communication, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1951.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Copyrighting Culture: The Political Economy of Intellectual Property


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 276

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?