Paralegal Guide: Copyright Timeline
Since the invention of the printing press in 1452, countless authors and publishers have fought to retain control of their published works. This timeline covers the introduction of the efficient printing press, which made the proliferation of books to the masses a possibility. Also covered are the subsequent laws enacted to protect the work of authors and promote creativity, the efforts to standardize global copyright protections and expand those protections to include other forms of artistic expression and composition, such as music and videos posted on You Tube. Issues of copyright law also include the fair use doctrine, public domain, the creation of the Library of Congress, the Berne Convention and The National Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works (CONTU). A part of a collection of resources, this timeline resource is useful for legal studies in the specific area of copyright law.
1452 Gutenberg Invents Printing Press
Johannes Gutenberg acquires business loan and revolutionizes print industry with printing press in Germany. Fails to pay back the loan and loses equipment and right to proceeds from the first mass-produced book, the Gutenberg Bible.
- Biography of Johannes Gutenberg and the technology of moveable type.
- Timeline of Gutenberg’s life and use of the printing press.
1456 Large Scale Production of Gutenberg Bible
The first mass-produced book in European history also referred to as the 42-line Bible because most pages were precisely 42 lines.
- The Gutenberg Bible information, timeline, and digital copies.
1476 Caxton Introduces Printing Press to England
William Caxton printed numerous texts of English classic literature, including Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Caxton also translated editions into numerous languages.
- Biography of William Caxton and his work.
Licensing Act of 1662
The Licensing Act, passed in England in 1662, created a registry for authors to obtain licensing for their published work. Licensing also required submitting a copy of the work, the content of which was monitored by the Church. It was later repealed.
- Text of Licensing Act from Arts & Humanities Research Council. Includes commentary.
- Commentary on Licensing Act of 1662 from McGuffy’s Readers at Purdue.
Statute of Anne 1710
Predecessor of modern copyright law, giving the primary fiscal benefit to authors and a limited amount of time until works were considered public domain.
- Text of the Statute of Anne from the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School.
- The Statute of Anne and Its Progeny: Variations Without a Theme by Diane Leenheer Zimmerman from NYU School of Law.
1787 U.S. Constitution
Article I § 8, Clause 8 states Congress has the right“. . .[t]o promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries. . .”
Copyright Act of 1790, An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Securing the Copies of Maps, Charts, and Books to the Authors and Proprietors of Such Copies
United States Congress passed copyright legislation similar to England’s Statute of Anne, giving authors the sole rights to published works for a maximum period of 14 years and a potential 14-year extension. Limitations were in place to promote creativity.
1831 Copyright Act Revision
Author’s sole rights extended from 14 years to 28 years with a potential 14-year extension. Legislation was modified to more closely resemble current law in Europe.
Wheaton v. Peters (1834)
Supreme Court determines the protection of copyright is not perpetually extended, limited to promote the creation of new work.
- Wheaton v. Peters 33 U.S. 591 (1834) Supreme Court opinion.
Folsom v. Marsh (1841)
In a dispute about the use of letters written by George Washington in a book, the Supreme Court established the fair use doctrine.
- Folsom v. Marsh and Its Legacy by L. Ray Patterson from University of Georgia School of Law claims the decision leading to the fair use doctrine was poorly reasoned.
Stowe v. Thomas (1853)
Harriet Beecher Stowe sued a publisher that translated her novel into German and sold them in the United States. The Supreme Court ruled that the translated novel did not infringe copyright since it was not a copy of the original.
1870 Copyright Act Revision
The Act established the Library of Congress Copyright Office.
1886 Berne Convention
An international treaty established to standardize copyright protection in all countries, eliminating the need for separate registries. The U.S. did not sign until 1988.
- The Berne Convention Treaty available through the World Intellectual Property Organization, complete articles with appendices.
1909 Copyright Act Revision
The bill was expanded to protect all types of original work. Copyright protection increased to 28 years with the potential for 28 additional years.
- Text of Copyright Act revision.
Williams and Wilkins Co. v. United States (1973)
Medical journal publishers filed suit against government agencies for copying and distributing articles to medical researchers for copyright infringement. The Supreme Court issued the decision that it fell within the fair use doctrine.
- The United States Supreme Court decision in Williams and Wilkins Co. v. United States from the Stanford University Libraries.
1976 Copyright Act Revision
Revisions included extending copyright protection to the author for life plus an additional fifty years, the codification of first sale and fair use doctrines, and protections for unpublished works. Additional revisions included provisions to the fair use doctrine to include unauthorized of copying and distribution of articles for educational use or research.
The National Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works in 1976 (CONTU)
The Commission was established by Congress in 1976 to develop fair use guidelines for interlibrary loans and photocopying for educational purposes.
Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corp. v. Crooks (1983)
The Supreme Court determined that a school making copies of commercially produced videos and distributing them was not fair use.
Maxtone-Graham v. Burtchaell (1986)
The Supreme Court ruled that quoting 4.3% of another author’s work was fair use.
- United State Court of Appeals, Second Circuit decision by Irving R. Kaufman.
1988 Berne Convention
The United States signed the Berne Convention treaty.
Basic Books, Inc. v. Kinko’s Graphic Corp. (1991)
The sale of coursepacks (copied textbooks repackaged and sold to student) was ruled a copyright infringement by a Federal district court in New York. The fair use doctrine did not apply to the education materials sold by Kinko’s.
- Fair Use and the Educators Right to Photocopy Copyrighted Material For Classroom Use by Robert Kasunic from the Journal of College and University Law discusses the case and fair use doctrine.
Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service Co., Inc. (1991)
Supreme Court ruling added a requirement of originality and personal expression in order for any work to receive copyright protection. The case, centering around a dispute about information compiled from a local phone book, does not qualify.
- Opinion of the Court written by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
American Geophysical Union v. Texaco (1992)
Texaco committed copyright infringement when their scientists copied full-length journal articles. The district court weighted the context of use of the material for profit and the considerable amount of material used in making the decision that Texaco should have obtained permission before copying and redistributing the material.
- American Geophysical Union v. Texaco Inc., 60 F.3d 913 (2nd Circuit 1994) published opinion.
An amendment to Section 304, Title 17 prevented a massive influx of printed work from becoming public domain.
Playboy Enterprises, Inc. v. Frena (1993)
District court in Florida rules that lack of intent to infringe copyright is immaterial, but is crucial in determining damages. The case involved a digitized image from a Playboy publication that was posted on an electronic billboard and downloaded by another person.
- Text of Court decision in Playboy Enterprises, Inc. v. Frena from Internet Library of Law and Court Decisions.
Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. (1994)
The fair use doctrine definition was expanded when the Supreme Court ruled the 2 Live Crew parody of “Pretty Woman” was fair use, the Court stipulating that the market for the parodied work and the original were very different.
- Supreme Court opinion in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.
Religious Technology Center v. Netcom (1995)
Internet Service Provider (ISP) Netcom was found legally responsible for contributory infringement for failing to remove copyrighted material posted by a subscriber. Liability by ISPs was later limited under Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998).
Princeton University Press, McMillan, Inc. and St. Martin’s Press v. Michigan Document Services, Inc. and James Smith (1996)
A for-profit copy shop located off-campus sold coursepacks comprised of copied materials that were sold to students. The Sixth Circuit Court ruled the copying and sale of copyrighted educational material was not fair use. Smith’s petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court was denied.
- Michigan Document Case & Coursepacks from Copyright & Fair Use Stanford University Libraries.
Copyright Term Extension Act (1998)
Sonny Bono act extending copyright protection to author from life plus fifty years to life plus seventy years.
- Full text of Act.
Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA)
Enacted criminal provisions for piracy of copyrighted software and digital material, limited copyright infringement liability for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in cases of subscribers posting copyrighted material and to educational institutions.
- Text of DCMA.
Bender v. West Publishing Co. (1999)
Copyright was denied to company that basically regurgitated data in an unimaginative manner.
Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (UCITA) 1999
The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws passed UCITA, which proposed unified statutory approach to software licensing.
- UCITA Online provides current information about law proposal.
2000 UCITA Signed Into Virginia State Law
Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore signs UCITA into state law. It was passed in Maryland the following month.
New York Times v. Tasini (2001)
The Supreme Court ruled that permission must be sought by a publication to reproduce freelance articles in commercial electronic databases.
- Opinion of the Court in New York Times v. Tasini (2001).
2001 Intellectual Property Protection Restoration Act Introduced by Leahy
The Bill introduced by Leahy challenged the State’s right to protect its own copyright interests and simultaneously infringe on others.
- University of Pennsylvania Law Review article about the necessity of the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2003.
Technology Education and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002 (TEACH Act)
Produced policies to improve the distance education classroom, including guidelines about copyrighted educational materials, general instructional guidelines and analog to digital conversion.
The TEACH Act text, analysis and commentary from the Copyright & Fair Use Stanford University Libraries.
Eldred v. Ashcroft (2003)
Supreme Court determined that repeated retroactive copyright terms constitutional.
Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. (2003)
Supreme Court ruling that works in the public domain could be reproduced for profit without citing the original author.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios v. Grokster (2005)
Digital file sharing company found responsible for secondary copyright infringement.
- Supreme Court opinion syllabus and text.
Field v. Google (2006)
The Supreme Court ruled that reproduction of an author’s work in Google website cache is not copyright infringement.
Intellectual Property Enforcement Act of 2007
Bill introduced by Rep. Steve Chabot that criminalizes attempts or conspiracies to commit copyright infringement, allows impounding of items or receipts documenting sale of infringed copyrighted material increases penalties for copyright infringement. Bill has not been passed.
- Text of bill presented to Congress.
Fair Copyright in Research Works Act 2008
Proposed bill prevents the required transfer of copyright to federal agencies as a condition of federal funding, including extrinsic work.
- Text of bill presented to Congress.
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., v. American Buddha 2011
RIAA v. Limewire 2011
Limewire provides peer-to-peer downloads of digital files. The company was found liable for copyright violation and is paying settling the case for $105 million.