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The Copyright Wars:
Three Centuries of Trans-Atlantic Battle
Peter Baldwin

Honorable Mention for the 2015 PROSE Award in Law & Legal Studies, Association of American Publishers

Paperback | 2016 | $24.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691169095
552 pp. | 5 3/4 x 9
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Today's copyright wars can seem unprecedented. Sparked by the digital revolution that has made copyright—and its violation—a part of everyday life, fights over intellectual property have pitted creators, Hollywood, and governments against consumers, pirates, Silicon Valley, and open-access advocates. But while the digital generation can be forgiven for thinking the dispute between, for example, the publishing industry and Google is completely new, the copyright wars in fact stretch back three centuries—and their history is essential to understanding today’s battles. The Copyright Wars—the first major trans-Atlantic history of copyright from its origins to today—tells this important story.

Peter Baldwin explains why the copyright wars have always been driven by a fundamental tension. Should copyright assure authors and rights holders lasting claims, much like conventional property rights, as in Continental Europe? Or should copyright be primarily concerned with giving consumers cheap and easy access to a shared culture, as in Britain and America? The Copyright Wars describes how the Continental approach triumphed, dramatically increasing the claims of rights holders. The book also tells the widely forgotten story of how America went from being a leading copyright opponent and pirate in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to become the world’s intellectual property policeman in the late twentieth. As it became a net cultural exporter and its content industries saw their advantage in the Continental ideology of strong authors’ rights, the United States reversed position on copyright, weakening its commitment to the ideal of universal enlightenment—a history that reveals that today’s open-access advocates are heirs of a venerable American tradition.

Compelling and wide-ranging, The Copyright Wars is indispensable for understanding a crucial economic, cultural, and political conflict that has reignited in our own time.

Peter Baldwin is professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Global Distinguished Professor at New York University.


"[F]ascinating and learned."--Louis Menand, New Yorker

"Baldwin quite ably and thoroughly illuminates the history of copyright developments in Europe and the US."--Mark A. Fischer, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Baldwin expertly and economically records the major beats of copyright history in the last 300 years in a surprisingly focused, readable narrative. . . . In discussions ranging from the origins of copyright in 18th-century England, through the rise of 'moral rights' in Europe and the transition of the U.S. from global pirate to a net exporter of cultural works in the 19th century, to present day battles over Google Book Search and thorny legislation, such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Baldwin both illuminates the past and neatly sketches the contours of the battles to come."--Publishers Weekly starred review

"Scholarly but accessible and lucid; essential for students or modern intellectual property law and of much interest to a wide audience of writers, journalists, publishers and 'content creators'."--Kirkus

"Baldwin has provided an often fascinating account of debates over intellectual property, including the defense of the moral rights of authors in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Most important, Baldwin makes a compelling case that although claims to intellectual property have strengthened over the last three hundred years, they do not rest in nature. Intellectual property is, in fact, 'a contingent, socially created right, in thrall to what the lawmakers of the day' decide it is."--Huffington Post

"The overriding value of The Copyright Wars is . . . its rich history of copyright and its underlying philosophy. In particular, [Baldwin] provides a fascinating analysis of the rivalry between the US and UK conception of property rights and the continental European belief in the author's moral rights."--John Gapper, Financial Times

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Table of Contents:

Introduction: The Agon of Author and Audience 1
1. The Battle between Anglo-American Copyright and European Authors' Rights 14
2. From Royal Privilege to Literary Property: A Common Start to Copyright in the Eighteenth Century 53
3. The Ways Part: Copyright and Authors' Rights in the Nineteenth Century 82
4. Continental Drift: Europe Moves from Property to Personality at the Turn of the Century 126
5. The Strange Birth of Moral Rights in Fascist Europe 163
6. The Postwar Apotheosis of Authors' Rights 199
7. America Turns European: The Battle of the Booksellers Redux in the 1990s 262
8. The Rise of the Digital Public: The Copyright Wars Continue in the New Millennium 318
Conclusion: Reclaiming the Spirit of Copyright 383
Acknowledgments 411
Notes 413
Index 513

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