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.

I had kind of assumed that most material regarding Wheaton v. Peters is already widely available, but I noticed that the National Archives has fairly substantial holdings of Justice Henry Baldwin‘s notes, along with some briefs, from his time on the court.  Justice Baldwin’s reputation is checkered by absences from the Court for both mental and physical illnesses, but he clearly was deeply involved in the Wheaton Case.  As I mentioned in my previous post Baldwin prepared a lengthy dissent in Wheaton, but it was not published until well after his death.

However, Baldwin’s papers also include a copy of an “abstract of the argument” prepared by Wheaton.  Briefs were not required before the Supreme Court at the time, and would not be required until 1854.  However, Wheaton clearly thought that laying out his arguments, with detailed references to sources, was desirable.  This document is held by a few libraries, but it isn’t widely known and it seemed worth sharing.

I also took the opportunity to digitize Justice Baldwin’s fairly extensive notes of the proceedings, which also includes the “points on appeal” parties were asked to file, sort of a bullet-point predecessor to briefs, along with notes of arguments being made.    There’s a lot to go through in them, but I hope people find them interesting and maybe even helpful .

Author: Zvi S. Rosen

Lawyer and sometimes academic. I've written a fair deal about the evolution of intellectual property law into its present form, this blog is a way to share things that don't fit into a full-length article.

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