• Clement S. Sealy, Jr.

2018 Evolution of Copyright

Updated: Apr 6, 2019

Ten, Twenty, even centuries from now the world will look back at 2018 as another year in history of copyright evolution. Yes, evolution. The rise in the protection of the underdogs whose sweat and hard work builds the foundation of industries.


Photographers, songwriters and authors have fought for their right to stop infringements on their properties for centuries. As history repeats it’s self, technology and exploitation always seem to be the antagonist for change.


The 15th century

⁃ 1440s, Johanne Gutenberg invents the printing press, making the reproduction of texts faster and less expensive.


The 18th century,

⁃ 1710, the She Statute of Anne is the first stature to recognize the rights of authors. Later known as intellectual properties in the form of royal “favors” granted by the queen and lords to those introducing and producing written material were known as “letters patents”. These grants were abused by the powers that be for personal gain.

⁃ 1789, the U.S. Constitution recognizes intellectual properties in Article 1, Section 8, giving Congress the power to “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right of their respective writings, and discoveries.

⁃ 1790 The Copyright Act of 1790, modeled on the statute of Anne, granted American authors of any book, map, or chart” the right to print, reprint, or publish their work for the renewable period of fourteen years.


19th Century

⁃ 1802, prints are added to protected works.

⁃ 1831, first general revision of the Copyright Act: the term of protection is extended and music is added to protected works.

⁃ 1865, photographs are added to protected works.

⁃ 1870, second general revisions of of the Copyright Act: Protections of paintings is added.

⁃ 1891, first U.S. copyright law related to foreign copyrights is passed authorizing the establishment of copyright relations with foreign countries.


20th Century

⁃ 1909, third general revision of the Copyright Act: the renewal term of protected words is extended to twenty-eight years.

⁃ 1912, motion pictures are added to protected works.

⁃ 1947, Copyright law is codified in to positive law as Title 17 of the U.S. Code.

⁃ 1976, fourth general revisions of the Copyright Act: Grants authors protection until fifty years after death. In response to new technology, protections are broadened to original works “in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or other wise communicated, either directly or with the aid of machine or device.

⁃ 1980, Copyright Law is amended regarding computer programs

⁃ 1998, The United States becomes a signatory of the Beme Convention, the most extensive copyright agreement between nations.

⁃ 1990, Congress passes the Visual Artists Rights Act.

⁃ 1992, Congress passes a Digital Audio Home recording Act.

⁃ 1997, Congress passes a No Electronic Theft Act.

⁃ 1998, Congress passes the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act and Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).


21st Century

⁃ 2002, Congress passes the Technology, Education, and Copyright harmonization (TEACH) Act.

⁃ 2004, Congress passes the Copyright Royalty and Distribution Reform Act.

⁃ 2005, Congress passes the Artists’ Rights and Theft Prevention Act.

⁃ 2008, Congress passes the Prioritizing Resources and Organization For Intellectual Property (PRO-IP) Act.

⁃ 2010: Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP)

⁃ 2011: Stop Online Piracy Act/Protect IP Act

⁃ 2012: WIPO Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances

⁃ 2013: Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled

⁃ 2018, Orrin G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act (MMA)

⁃ This year also saw progress for the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2017


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