Discussion: With Reference to the Copyright Laws of at least two Countries evaluate the Extent to which Changes to the Law have taken Place as a Result of technological Change

Seminar Paper, 2004

25 Pages, Grade: First, distinction


Table of Contents


I. Introduction

II. Elaboration
1. The Concept of Copyright
2. A Journey through Copyright History
(a) ‘1st Epoch’: 1445-1500
(b) ‘2nd Epoch’: 1500-1700
(c) ‘3rd Epoch’: 1700-1886
(1) First Modern Copyright Laws
(2) Photography
(3) Outcome
(d) ‘4th Epoch’: 1886-today
(1) National Uniformity
(2) International Uniformity
(3) Technological Progress
(i) Radio
(ii) Sound Recordings and Film
(iii) Xerography
(iv) Computers, Internet and Digitalisation
(4) Censorship
(5) Conclusion

III. Conclusion



I. Introduction

If we had lived in the beginning of the 20th century our lives would have been different; we would have just heard the first voice on the radio and maybe we would have seen one of the first films in a cinema – black and white and silent.

We would not have any idea about what the century would bring. We would not even be able to imagine that 100 years later television would be omnipresent and that CDs or MP3 files would exist and we would not even have a clue what ‘peer-to-peer file-sharing’ means.

Today, we take all these inventions for granted and most of us can no longer imagine to live without the internet as a steady source of information. Yes – we may say that we have finally reached a ‘digital era’.

Nevertheless, copyright laws can be traced back to the Middle Ages and up to now they had to cope with technological progress and all kinds of inventions. Technological change was once described as the “motor for the development of the copyright law”.[1]

However, it must be asked in how far this statement is true. In how far does it acknowledge the historical development of copyright law and does it neglect other influential factors?

This paper will try to examine the impact of technological change and will thus ask, in how far copyright laws have developed as a direct answer to technological inventions and which other factors supported or delayed its development.

It will be argued that worldwide technological change was and still is one of the most important factors influencing the development of copyright laws. However, it will also be shown that this impact has not always been the same.

This paper will identify four distinguishable ‘epochs’ which reflect different impacts of technology on the development of copyright law and it will be seen that basically the following ‘epochs’ can be found in various jurisdictions:

1. from 1445-1500 technological change was the initial drive for copyright law;
2. from 1500-1700 the stabilisation of political power through censorship determined copyright law;
3. from 1700-1886 technological progress is again in the centre of copyright developments and
4. from 1886-today technological progress is still highly influential, but the aim of international uniformity and economic considerations are of equally strong influence.

However, it will also be seen that these ‘epochs’ cannot be seen as fixed, as not all countries fit nicely into this scheme.

II. Elaboration

Before starting the discussion, the concept of copyright will be outlined [ 1. ]. Afterwards the impact of technological changes on the development of copyright law will be analysed historically concentrating on the UK and the US accompanied by quick comparative excursions into other jurisdictions [ 2. ].

1. The Concept of Copyright

Today, copyright protects an author’s intellectual property right in a variety of works, such as literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, as well as sound recordings, films, broadcasts, cable programmes, performances and typographical arrangements.[2]

Copyright gives the author of a work an exclusive statutory right to authorise or to prohibit its exploitation, e.g. by reproducing, performing, showing or playing the work in public, renting or lending copies, broadcasting the work, including it in a cable programme service or making an adaptation of the work.[3] These ‘economic rights’ are supplemented by ‘moral rights’, i.e. the right to be identified as the author of the work, to object to derogatory treatment of certain copyright works and to having a work falsely attributed to oneself as author, as a well as the right to privacy of certain photographs and films.[4]

Criminal and civil sanctions should ensure compliance.[5]

The existence of copyright protection can be justified by the following four arguments[6] which are independently, as well as cumulatively supportive and are applied with different emphasis worldwide.[7]

Firstly, according to natural law, an author should have the control over his work.

Secondly, copyright protects the “fruits of a man’s work, labour, skill or taste” from exploitation.[8] It rewards the author economically for his work.

Thirdly, it stimulates creativity as it provides an economic basis for the investment required to create the work. Nobody would invest without a reasonable expectation to gain from this investment. Copyright protection provides this incentive and consequently it supports creativity.

Finally, copyright promotes the public interest as authors are encouraged to publish and to widely disseminate their works which makes them publicly available and useable.

However, infringement of copyright is only possible if there actually exist means of reproduction. There is no need for protection, if reproduction of the work cannot be achieved. A programme on the radio or television would not have required legal protection if the technical means to record it – a tape or a VRC – had never been invented. Furthermore, the writer of a book does not need to be protected in the same way when the only procedure to copy his book is through hand writing as when it can quickly and easily be reproduced by a photocopying machine.

2. A Journey through Copyright History

In order to assess in how far copyright laws were actually a reaction to technological progress, this paper will undertake a journey through copyright history from the early beginning of typing and printing, passing the invention of photography, film, photocopying and sound recording to finally reach digitalisation. It will be argued that the technological influence has changed with the above outlined ‘epochs’.

(a) ‘1st Epoch’: 1445-1500

Before the 15th century the European population was basically illiterate; a market for books did not exist. Literary works of this time were religious or for the royal courts of Europe and the only means of reproduction was to copy them by hand. This was done by monks and needed a massive investment of human labour and skill. Hence, plagiarism was more or less unknown.[9]

However, the 16th century was marked by two important inventions: the moveable type and the printing press.

In the years 1436-40 Johannes Gutenberg invented the moveable wooden and later metal type letters and William Craxton established the first printing press in Westminster in 1476. In 1452 the “Gutenberg Bible” was the first book published in volume.[10]

These inventions made a drastic change; suddenly, it was possible to copy texts in a much faster way, allowing an ever-increasing number to be reproduced and distributed easily and comparatively cheaply.[11] Slowly a market for books started to establish and the necessity of copyright laws became prevalent in order to keep pace with these new developments.

An early reaction on these changes can be seen in the 1483 UK Copyright Statute by Richard III which encouraged the printing of books and permitted their importation.

This early stage of copyright development, in this paper identified as the ‘1st epoch’, shows that technological change was originally the sole reason for the development of copyright law. Thus, technological progress can be identified as the initial drive for the establishment of copyright provisions.

(b) ‘2nd Epoch’: 1500-1700

In the 16th century the Stationers’ Company, which can be described as the “forefathers of modern publishers”, became the chief promoters of exclusive rights against copiers.[12] They acquired works from authors, organised their printing and sale.

However, Catholic Queen Mary seeking effective control over the publishing press and the book trade, as well as about religious oppositions, granted the Stationers’ Company a Charter in 1556.[13] This Charter established a system of privileges and censorship to regulate the book trade. Only exclusively registered members of the Company could print books and this became known as “Copyright”, the right to make copies.

Moreover, the Stationers’ Company could control printing by imposing fines, award damages and confiscate infringing copies.[14] Consequently, copyright laws were actively used to prevent the promotion of the reformed religion by strong restrictions on publishers of “seditious and heretical books”.[15]

Under Anglican Queen Elizabeth I a licensing system was introduced by Decree in 1585.[16] However, also here copyright was used as a system of control, now organised under the Star Chamber and the heads of the established churches.[17] The system of censorship was finally abolished in the UK by the Cromwellian Revolution in 1640.

However, in the beginning of the 16th century this pattern of copyright law could not only be found in the UK but all over Europe.

National authorities had recognised copyright as a highly effective means to serve their interests and thus, to control information given to their citizens and to promote a new industry.[18] In Germany this ‘period of privileges’ lasted from 1501 until the creation of the German Reich in 1871.[19] In France this system of censorship was present from 1507 until the Revolution in 1789[20] and in Spain until 1847.[21]

To sum up, it can be seen that in the ‘2nd epoch’ copyright laws were no longer a direct response to technological inventions, but used as an effective weapon by national authorities to establish a tight system of censorship. Thus, copyright laws had become a means of political power and were formed to stabilise authorities. Whereas the technological progress of the ‘1st epoch’ led to the initial necessity of copyright law, political and religious pursuit for power determined their contents.


[1] Copinger, W./Skone, J. “Copinger and Skone James on Copyright” Vol. 1 (14th ed. Sweet&Maxwell 1999), p. 1125

[2] see e.g. UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, s. 1 (1)

[3] see ibid CDPA 1988, s. 16 (1)

[4] see ibid CDPA 1988, s. 2 (2) and Ch. IV, ss. 77-89

[5] see ibid CDPA 1988, ch. VI, ss. 96-114b

[6] see Copinger/Skone (1999) op cit. no. 1, p. 29; Davies, G. “Copyright and the Public Interest” (2nd ed. London: Sweet & Maxwell 2002), paras. 2.005-2.008; Bentley, L./Sherman, B. “Intellectual Property Law” (1st ed. Oxford University Press 2001), p. 32

[7] Copinger/Skone (1999) op cit. no. 1, p. 29

[8] Jacobs, R./Alexander, D. “A Guidebook to Intellectual Property – Patents, Trade Mark, Copyright and Designs” (4th ed. London: Sweet & Maxwell 1993), p. 125

[9] see Bainbridge, D. “Intellectual Property Law” (4th ed. Pitman Publishing 1999), p. 31-32; Copinger/Skone (1999) op cit. no. 1, para. 2-07

[10] see Bellis, M. “A-Z Inventions” 2004; http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blprinting.htm (visited 5.5.04)

[11] Copinger /Skone (1999) op cit. no. 1, para. 2-07

[12] Cornish, W./Llewelyn, D. “Intellectual Property: Patents, copyright, Trade Marks and allied rights” (5th ed. Sweet&Maxwell 2003), p. 345

[13] ibid Cornish/Llewelyn (2003), p. 345; cf. Preamble of the Stationers’ Company Charter 1556

[14] Bainbridge (1999) op. cit. no. 9, p. 32

[15] Copinger /Skone (1999) op. cit. no. 1, para. 2-09

[16] see Copinger /Skone (1999) op. cit. no. 1, para. 2-10

[17] Cornish/Llewelyn (2003) op. cit. no. 12, p. 346

[18] Davies (2002) op. cit. no. 6, para. 3.002

[19] Davies (2002) op. cit. no. 6, para. 3-002

[20] Davies (2002) op. cit. no. 6, para. 3-002

[21] Gimeno, L. “Politics, Patents and Copyright in Twentieth Century Spain” in Firth, A. (ed.) Perspectives on Intellectual Property (1st ed. Sweet & Maxwell 1997) pp. 159-182, at p. 171

Excerpt out of 25 pages


Discussion: With Reference to the Copyright Laws of at least two Countries evaluate the Extent to which Changes to the Law have taken Place as a Result of technological Change
University of Wales, Aberystwyth  (Law Faculty)
Seminar: International Copyright Law
First, distinction
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
545 KB
Discussion, With, Reference, Copyright, Laws, Countries, Extent, Changes, Place, Result, Change, Seminar, International, Copyright
Quote paper
Sandra Vivian Wagner (Author), 2004, Discussion: With Reference to the Copyright Laws of at least two Countries evaluate the Extent to which Changes to the Law have taken Place as a Result of technological Change, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/61017


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