December 9, 2019

Interesting Facts on the origin of copyright

by Studio Valaguzza in Deepening

We often hear about it and, jurists at least, know how to protect it, but few people know where and when copyright was established.
Copyright is, indeed, a very young institution.
In the ancient times, it was not possible, though only in a limited manner, to reproduce a relevant number of copies and therefore there was not the nagging problem of protecting the author of a work. On the contrary, copying was considered an actual artistic expression, something good rather than something bad.
In the ancient Greece and Rome, the works were freely copiable and therefore could be subjected to manipulation and changes over time. In the Middle Ages the authors used to protect their works from illegal uses by embedding “curses” in texts.
It was only with the invention of print that people began to feel the need to recognise to authors more protections. At the beginning the author ensured for himself the profit deriving from the sale of the manuscript to the printer, whereas this latter enjoyed the profits deriving from the exploitation of the work. Privilege systems (the ancestors of the exclusive) were introduced and granted at first to editors and printers and only after to the authors of literary works. The most coveted privileges were the ones granted by the Pope, since they gave the right to reproduce the work in all the Christian world and because the violation of this concession caused the excommunication of the offender.
The first copyright in history was granted in Venice on the 19th of September 1469 to Giovanni de Spira, the printer who introduced the art of typography in Venice. He obtained from the venetian authorities the privilege to be the only one able to print Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis historia in all the city’s territory.
The most ancient law on copyright matter was Queen Anna Stuart’s Statute, who introduced in England the (famous) copyright between 1709 and 1710. This first law on copyright was followed by the United States federal law introduced in 1790 and the French revolution laws of 1791 and 1793 which expressly gave the author of a work the right to take legal actions against a “counterfeiter”. It was only with these regulation acts that the property right on the work was no longer considered as a natural right but became a concept defined by law as positive, limited in time and with a relevant economic value.
In Italy, the first acknowledgment of the “most holy and precious of properties” was with Law 19 “fiorile” year IX (9th of May 1801) of the Cisalpine Republic. Followed by the Edict 23 September 1826 for the Papal State, the decree 5 February 1828 for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the “Albertino civil Code” in 1836 for Sardinia and the decree 22 December 1840 by Marie Louise for the Duchy of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla.
If you think about the fact that in unified Italy the law on copyright is the no. 633 of the 22nd of April 1941, you realise that it is not been long from the technological goals achieved in the past. The law has been reinterpreted in the broadest way possible after every technological revolution, and we should ask ourselves how it will be modified in the future. The future generations will have the final saying.