cover image The Copyright Wars: Three Centuries of Trans-Atlantic Battle

The Copyright Wars: Three Centuries of Trans-Atlantic Battle

Peter Baldwin. Princeton Univ, $35 (560p) ISBN 978-0-691-16182-2

Baldwin (The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe Are Alike), a history professor at UCLA, takes on the history of copyright, with all its deep artistic and moral quandaries, in this incisive work that cuts through the warren of legal and legislative wrangling endemic to intellectual property law. Baldwin expertly and economically records the major beats of copyright history in the last 300 years in a surprisingly focused, readable narrative. The author shines a light on the fundamental question that animates all sides of the copyright debate: should copyright exist primarily to protect the rights of creators or the rights of consumers and the cultural progress? Yet, he finds that one side of the debate has prevailed in the last century—the scales have clearly tipped in favor of creators, with copyrights becoming “longer and stronger.” 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. “Ultimately,” Baldwin reminds us, “the issues at stake are political and ideological. Nature has precious little to say about how intellectual property is justified.” (Oct.)