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The History of Copyright

This timeline is based on the Copyright Timeline at What I think are the most important events I have typed in bold.

Notice how many revisions and amendments to the copyright law are proposed or adopted after 1990. The titles get longer and the changes get more specific. This is due to the very recent advances in technology. Today's technology creates more complex situations regarding copyright whenever it makes copying something simpler: the photocopier made copying books easier, the MP3 music format made copying music easier since the files were so small, the Internet made sharing computer files easier, and so on.

Starting with the basic rule of copyright and building on it with the changes noted in this timeline, something close enough to the current copyright law can be obtained, at least in the context of digital technology. More details on each copyright law or amendment would be nice, but it would probably confuse the most of us.

1710 - British Parliament enacts the Statute of Anne, the first copyright law

1790 - First United States copyright law: fourteen years with fourteen year renewal

1831 - Revision to U.S. copyright: 28 years with fourteen year renewal

1870 - Administration of copyright registrations moved from district courts to the Library of Congress Copyright Office

1886 - Berne Convention: uniform copyright law for European countries; replaced need for registration in every country

1891 - International Copyright Treaty: international copyright bill created by authors, publishers, and printers

1909 - Revision to U.S. copyright: protection includes all works of authorship; 28 years with 28 year renewal

1976 - Copyright Act of 1976: replaced all previous U.S. copyright laws; term extended to life of author plus 50 years; accordance with international copyright; technological developments addressed; fair use and first sale doctrines codified; allowed libraries to make photocopies; various exceptions for educational purposes

1988 - United States becomes Berne signatory; greater protection, copyright relationships with 24 countries, and a copyright notice is no longer required

1990 - Revision to U.S. copyright: commercial lending of computer software is prohibited

1992 - Revision to U.S. copyright: renewal is automatic

1993 - The Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights was formed to explore copyright and the National Information Infrastructure, "a seamless web of communications networks, computers, databases, and consumer electronics" (Information Infrastructure Task Force)

1994 - The Working Group sponsored activities to get input on copyright law and the NII; released a draft report called the Green Paper

1994 - The Working Group sponsored the Conference on Fair Use to discuss fair use; proposed guidelines

1995 - The Working Group released the White Paper; recommended amendments to the Copyright Act of 1976; introduced in Congress as the NII Copyright Protection Act of 1995

1996 - Uruguay Round Agreements Act, signed by President Clinton in 1994, amended U.S. copyright and restored copyright for works from certain countries

1996 - Database Investment and Intellectual Property Antipiracy Act of 1996: protected computer databases from extraction of a large amount of data

1996 - World Intellectual Property Organization: 160 countries considered two treaties which changed the approach to copyright issues, permitted fair use in the digital world, and emphasized the balance between the rights of authors and the rights of the public

1998 - Copyright Term Extension Act: term extended to life of author plus 70 years

1998 - Digital Millennium Copyright Act: implemented the WIPO treaties; protected online service providers from copyright violation; allowed temporary copies of computer programs for maintenance purposes; protected boat hull designs; amended the copyright law to include Internet broadcasts; prohibited circumvention of technological protection measures in order to get unauthorized access

1999 - Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act: proposed unified approach to licensing of information and software

1999 - Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999: increased minimum statutory damages for copyright infringement from $500 to $700; maximum from $20,000 to $30,000; maximum for willful infringement from $100,000 to $150,000

2000 - Virginia passes UCITA

2000 - Library of Congress decides on two kinds of works to be exempt from the DMCA Anti-Circumvention Provision: lists of Web sites blocked by filtering software and works with access control that fails due to malfunction, damage, or obsolescence

2001 - Intellectual Property Protection Restoration Act of 2001: I can't figure out what this says! See the Copyright Timeline mentioned earlier and tell me what you think it means.

2002 - Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act: any device that can read, store, or record copyrighted digital information is required to comply with copy protection schemes encoded in digital works

2002 - 38 amendments made to the UCITA; UCITA downgraded from a "uniform law" to a "model law"; seeks to replace public copyright with private contracts

2002 - CTEA is argued to be unconstitutional; a federal appeals court found it permissible and constitutional; the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce a decision next year

2002 - Technology Education and Copyright Harmonization Act: allows using more materials in distance education, delivering content to students outside classrooms, keeping archives of course materials on servers, and conversion of works from analog to digital formats, with many limitations