12
Oct
2020

Counting Copyright Registrations Before 1870

This past spring/summer, my article (coauthored with Richard Schwinn, Ph.D) entitled “An Empirical Study of 225 Years of Copyright Registrations.” This post is part of a series studying particular parts of my paper, and sharing in greater detail than I could there some insights.

When I first joined the Copyright Office as the Abraham L. Kaminstein Scholar in Residence, I had figured I’d focus on the era of the copyright card catalog, which is 1870-1978 (really 1898-1978). And I did spend quite a while on that period, which I’ll go into in a subsequent post. However, I also found myself diving deeper into the pre-1870 copyright registrations, where registration was accomplished by deposit of a title page and filling out a prescribed form of registration with the clerk of the local United States District Court. Little is known about these registrations, and I set out to try to learn more about them and make them available. Many have heard that the project to scan these records, (mostly) held by the Rare Book Room of the Library of Congress is currently underway. In fact, the first part of this project – the roughly 50,000 title pages from this period – has recently been made publicly available.

In this post I intend to:

  1. Give the history of the pre-1870 copyright records themselves;
  2. Describe how Dr. Schwinn and I estimated statistics of these records;
  3. Provide information and analysis about these statistics; and
  4. Shine light on what was being registered for copyright before 1870.
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24
Sep
2020

Video Post: View(s) From The Other Side

It’s been a long time since I posted – I remember getting the last post out in late March and thinking that things would hopefully be back to normal by the Spring, which has obviously not come to pass. In the interim I’ve also made a big move – I’ve joined the faculty of the Southern Illinois University School of Law in Carbondale, IL as an Assistant Professor, where I’m teaching real property and further courses to be named later.

That said, I’ve also taken the time to put together an online version of a videotaped lecture series hosted by the Examining Division of the US Copyright Office from 1985 to 1993, entitled “A View From The Other Side.” The series was created and usually hosted by Jodi Rush, who has been generous enough to provide some context on the series and videos. According to Jodi, she created the series “to educate Examining Division Staff about the industries we served, help them understand the impact of their daily work, and introduce them to some of the luminaries who were instrumental in the creation of the 1976 Act, which of course we were still in the throes of implementing.” I think you can tell that from the many different types of speakers from different sectors – it’s really a snapshot of the different constituencies of copyright law on the cusp of the digital age.

The 22 Videos I have from the series are reproduced below. In each case the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress digitized the original U-Matic videocassettes. In cases where the program spanned multiple cassettes I edited the files together myself – I believe everything came out fine but please let me know if anything didn’t. The full playlist is here, and I’ve also embedded it below (it might only show the first video though).

29
Mar
2020

Some Adventures in the Origins of Motion Picture Copyright

I’ve always enjoyed movies, but I’ve never been particularly a movie buff, and I haven’t been particularly knowledgeable about the origins of motion pictures. However, in the past few years I’ve had a chance to become more knowledgable about them, and especially about the first 18 years of their registration at the Library of Congress (and then the Copyright Office at the Library). This has been hastened by working with Claudy Op Den Camp to help research her section in the new collection (which she also co-edited) “A History of Intellectual Property in 50 Objects.”

Book Cover

The book is wonderful and highly recommended, and but I wanted to share some of the research that didn’t make it in – especially about how the forms of registration were chosen, and some of the additional legal history of how motion pictures were finally added to the copyright law in their own category in 1912. So keep reading for more!

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19
Mar
2020

Video Post: The 1984 Congressional Copyright and Technology Symposium

We tend to assume that past policymakers, especially in the copyright arena, were ignorant of the possibilities of a technological future. But I’ve found that many times Congress and other policymakers were better informed than we tend to assume. Take for instance the hearings on CONTU, or the Copyright Office being shown how the web worked while it was still in its infancy. Another example is the Congressional Copyright and Technology Seminar, held in February 1984, where members of Congress and other policymakers were educated by a group of technologists on what they saw as the coming future of technology and how it would relate to IP law.  This symposium had been preceded by a hearing on Copyright and Technological Change in July of 1983.

The proceedings of this conference have long been available in transcript form, but I’ve been able to find the video, digitized by the Library of Congress Motion Picture Division, and I’m pleased to share it below. Note that the was originally on 16 U-Matic videocassettes, I’ve edited the videos together myself, so there may be occasional jumps (you can refer to the transcript for gaps).

Day 1 – February 4, 1984

Day 2 – February 5, 1984

A schedule of the event’s proceedings follows:

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30
Dec
2019

The Copyright in “Little Women”

“An honest publisher and a lucky author, for the copyright made her fortune, and the ‘dull book’ was the first golden egg of the ugly duckling.” – Louisa May Alcott, 1885

With a new movie version coming out, Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women is once again in the news, often with some conversation of how Alcott’s publisher urged her to keep the copyright in her work, earning her a fortune. But the story of her copyright is rarely explored beyond that, and I think it’s an interesting one, in that it spans multiple eras of copyright history in a way only a few other works did. It’s also a useful research case study for those interested in using copyright records for historical and literary research. I’ll admit I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m told that it has a great scene about copyright – I’ll have to check it out.

I’m also informed that the Library of Congress has an exhibition of some of the copyright deposits made by Louisa May Alcott, catch it while it’s still up. The discussion continues below…

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10
Dec
2019

An Inventory of Inventories of Federal Court Records from the WPA

As I’ve been researching lost copyright records from the District Courts (AKA pre-1870 copyright records), I’ve found that the “Inventories of Federal Archives in the States” done by the WPA are invaluable. Series 2 – federal court records – is especially important to those interested in legal history, tracking where things were before it was accessioned to the National Archives (which was only created a few years earlier). In many cases these are more detailed than the National Archives Finding Aids, and/or describe material which didn’t make it to the National Archives.

The usefulness of these inventories is focused in cases like Ohio, where the 1829-1842 copyright record book is listed in the inventory, but hasn’t been seen since. I haven’t yet located this record book (and may not), but having a reference of where things were before the transfer to the National Archives is invaluable, even if occasionally frustrating. Given that these inventories are generally available online but haven’t been organized in one place, I decided to provide such a resource – for my own purposes as well as to help others. In many cases there’s a survey note as well, for instance this is the survey note on the now-missing Ohio copyright record book.

A preliminary checklist was prepared of all inventories produced for this project, which I’ve scanned and reproduced here. Note that Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states and thus were not included. The manual for creating these inventories is also available, here. The Research Bibliography of WPA Publications also lists these, should it be helpful.

Also, although it wasn’t part of the WPA’s inventory, the 1962 inventory of records of the US Supreme Court is here. The list of states follows below the jump.

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25
Nov
2019

How to Research a Supreme Court Case (to Excess)

Over the past decade I’ve researched and written about the history of a fair number of U.S. Supreme Court cases, mostly in the IP field. Over this time I’ve learned a fair bit about what resources are available, and also recently procrastinated a writing project and developed a research tool to make finding the case file number much quicker. All the places you can go (that I know of) to learn more about a case are below – and if there’s things I learn (or just forgot to mention) I’ll add to this as time goes on.

Note that all the steps below aren’t necessary in all cases, and there are often additional possible steps as well. This is meant as a general guide, not as an exhaustive one. Also, many of the steps outlined here can apply to State Supreme, State and Federal Appellate, and trial and administrative adjudications. There’s been so much digitized in the past two decades; the time required to take many of these steps is surprisingly minimal.

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24
Oct
2019

Mini-Post: A Brief and Notes of the Argument in Wheaton v. Peters via Justice Baldwin

I posted recently about Banks v. Manchester and Callaghan v. Myers, the two 1888 cases about copyright in judicial opinions. However, as I noted, the issue is anchored by the 1834 Supreme Court case of Wheaton v. Peters, the first copyright case the Court took, and the wellspring of law regarding the uncopyrightability of legal opinions. With oral argument in Georgia v. Public Resource on the horizon, I wanted to share some more of my findings regarding Wheaton. Read More

10
Oct
2019

Copyright in State Legal Materials – Looking Back to 1888

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear argument in Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org Inc. in about two months, with petitioner’s briefs already in, and respondent’s briefs were submitted yesterday.  The question presented is fairly simple and a matter of law – “Whether the government edicts doctrine [(that they are not protectable by copyright)] extends to—and thus renders uncopyrightable—works that lack the force of law, such as the annotations in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated.”

As the 11th Circuit noted below, in holding that the annotations could not be protected by copyright, the Supreme Court addressed this question three times in the nineteenth century, but not since.  Those three cases will be what the Supreme Court will be basing its decision on, but two of them are quite obscure.  So as not to bury the lede, the archival contribution of this post is that I’ve scanned the briefs from one of these cases – Banks v. Manchester – and shared them online (the other two were already available)- you can access them here.  I also scanned the case file from the U.S. National Archives, comprising mainly correspondence between the parties and the Court – you can download the PDF here. Read More

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