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Copyright: History

    As a legal concept, at least in statutory form, copyright dates back to the year 1710 and the Statute of Anne, which was the first copyright law in the Kingdom of Great Britain.  The purpose of the act was: "for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the times therein mentioned." A visual reproduction and old English translation can be found here.

    A more complete history of the Statute of Anne and its relationship with British common law can be found in Lawrence Lessig's book "Free Culture" (available here ). In the U.S. the Constitution gave Congress the power to enact laws establishing a system of copyright. Congress enacted the first federal copyright law in May 1790, and the first work was registered within two weeks. Originally, claims were recorded by Clerks of U.S. District Courts. Not until 1870 were copyright functions centralized in the Library of Congress under the direction of the then Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford. The Copyright Office became a separate department of the Library of Congress in 1897, and Thorvald Solberg was appointed the first Register of Copyrights. Additional information regarding the functioning of the U.S. Copyright Office can be found here.

    While the historical perspective makes for fascinating reading (for some), this copyright tutorial focuses on U.S. Copyright law as it exists today, and from the point of view of how it is applied day-to-day on the Internet and elsewhere.

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