How can I learn more about IP/copyright history/issues in the US?
March 29, 2011 7:48 AM   Subscribe

I want to learn more about the history and legal issues surrounding copyright infringement/intellectual property and how it relates to businesses and artists in the United States. What would be a good place to start? (Prompted by this thread.)
posted by autoclavicle to Law & Government (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I haven't read this book, and I'm not an expert in the field, but Richard Posner and William Landes's book looks useful. It's from 8 years ago, so there might be developments in IP law, especially related to the internet, that the book doesn't take into account.
posted by John Cohen at 8:10 AM on March 29, 2011

Best answer: Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture gives a good overview of this.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 8:14 AM on March 29, 2011

Best answer: So there's a book about it. I don't know anything about the book.

However, I took a class called "Intellectual Property and Piracy" several years ago from the guy who wrote it. It was about the history of IP. The class was really interesting and touched on everything you asked about, so I thought I'd try to scrounge up the syllabus to give you some sources for your question here.

But I didn't find the syllabus. I found a thousand links to this book. I'm pretty sure the book covers everything we covered in class, given that it's the same guy and the timing works out such that he was probably putting the finishing touches on the book while teaching me.

You should get the book.
posted by phunniemee at 8:22 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Jumping straight into Posner seems like a dive into the ocean without a life jacket.

I don't have any current titles in mind, but some things to keep in mind as you try to get oriented. Modern (US) intellectual property jurisprudence is divided into three separate fields: patents, trademark and copyright. These can be very separate bodies of law but they share some philosophical underpinnings. Copyright and trademark issues often overlap.

I think non-lawyers also have a hard time getting oriented in IP issues because the practical effect of a lot of doctrines (i.e., fair use), not to mention the realities of litigation often go beyond what's in the treatises or the analysis of the statutes. So understanding the effect of IP law on businesses and artists also requires an understanding of how litigation works and drives business decisions.

Most of the books I can think of off the top of my head are written for lawyers. I know for a fact that there are excellent historical discussions in the Nimmer on Copyright, McCarthy on Trademarks and Chisum on Patents, but sending a non-lawyer into a legal treatise is probably even crueller than recommending you start with Posner! If you REALLY want to dig into the historical stuff that might be a great starting point, and you can get to those treatises via a law library. A conversation with a law librarian might also lead you to some more accessible texts.

I think some of Lawrence Lessig's works do a good job of setting up at least some of the framework, but it's been a while since I read those books.

It is VERY easy to get lost in the details of a lot of IP law, especially as it relates to the DMCA and many modern "hot button" topics. My own sense of the literature out there is that a lot of stuff has a fairly blatant philosophical agenda, which may or may not be what you're looking for.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 10:22 AM on March 29, 2011

Best answer: Argh, forgot a point.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation developed a curriculum called "Teaching Copyright", which looks quite on-point.

FWIW, I believe this was developed in part as a response to the Boy Scout patch that parrotted some of the RIAA anti-piracy rhetoric. The "Resources" list might be exactly what you're looking for.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 10:26 AM on March 29, 2011

Best answer: Can't second phunniemee hard enough. Johns is awesome at this stuff. I will, one day, finish the paper I'm working on related to his theses.

If you like Piracy, you should move on to The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making.
posted by valkyryn at 10:32 AM on March 29, 2011

Best answer: I can highly recommend Jessica Litman's Digital Copyright, which is written by a lawyer but is a very accessible and entertaining read. Although it focuses on, yes, digital copyright, it does start with a good general overview, and it goes back 100 years through to the DMCA.

This was recommended to me by copyright lawyers, and I should note that the book is also on the EFF curriculum resource list, and those guys definitely know what they're talking about when it comes to this stuff!
posted by KatlaDragon at 1:48 PM on March 29, 2011

Best answer: For some history, try An Unhurried View of Copyright. It may be old, but it is still relevant. I really enjoyed it. But it is not for the faint of heart.
posted by Shebear at 6:13 PM on March 29, 2011

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