Copyright between 1790 and 1831

The years 1790 and 1831 aren’t just some random years. In this time span, copyright laws have been enacted and changed and expanded many, many times.

To start off: on May 31 in 1790, the first copyright law of the U.S. was enacted. This law was mainly known as “An Act for the encouragement of learning, by securing copies of maps, charts, and books to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the time herein mentioned.” (copyright.gov) Even though now it does not matter for copyright where someone’s from, in 1790 this law was only granted to citizens of the United States. Also, the period of protection was 14 years – which changed about 10 years later.

In 1831, the first revision of the copyright law expanded the law to also include musical compositions. In addition, not only historical print but any print or engraving was now included in the copyright act.
In this year, the first term of protection was 28 years, but in the renewal it changed to 14 years, and not only granted for U.S. citizens but for any author,  and also to his widow or children if he would pass away at the end of the original term period of protection.

Over the past years, more and more changes to the copyright law have been made, but – also mentioned in The Idealist – these two years have been incredibly influential for the future of copyright.

More information and important dates/changes can be found on: http://copyright.gov/history/dates.pdf

  • Bregje Smits

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