The Historical Construction of Copyright
The 18th-century copyright story is one repeated so frequently that it has become conventional. It is a story complete with victims, villains, and heroes with continued relevance into the late 1990s. Before I address the implications of the changing copyright environment, it is important to understand the historical context of the traditional copyright story. This chapter summarizes the history of copyright and outlines the copyright story used to structure debates and assumptions important to modern copyright law. Copyright has evolved in many ways; it incorporates a far broader spectrum of work and has changed significantly since the 18th century. However, we owe our assumptions about copyright, and our general understanding of authorship, to 18th-century law.
This chapter focuses on the construction of copyright through discursive negotiations regarding ownership and exchange. Michael Shapiro conceptualized the tension that emerges when sovereignty systems (ownership) are pitted against exchange systems (advocating the relaxation of control). Shapiro defined these systems in terms of their relation to each other: "The opposition between flows of exchange and the inhibitions of sovereignty is oriented around issues of selfhood and location and consequently involves an emphasis either on ownership and the maintenance of authority and control or on reciprocity, substitutability, and the relaxation of control in order to produce expanded domains in which things can circulate." 1 Copyright battles reflect the mutually exclusive desires to maintain authority and control, and the necessity to relax control to facilitate circulation. The position a person takes in this debate is dependent on his or her economic incentive to either share or control information.