Working paper Open Access

Introduction to 'Art and Modern Copyright: The Contested Image' (CUP, 2018)

Cooper, Elena

This Working Paper is a re-print of the introductory chapter of the monograph ‘Art and Modern Copyright: The Contested Image’ published as part of the Cambridge Intellectual Property and Information Law series by Cambridge University Press in 2018. Art and Modern Copyright is the first in-depth and longitudinal account of the history of copyright relating to the visual arts and concerns the protection of painting, engraving and photography in the UK 1850-1911. Together with the copyright history monographs discussed in the accompanying CREATe Working Paper ‘Copyright History in Review’ (Working Paper 2021/3), Art and Modern Copyright can be seen as part of a new wave of recently published scholarship which shifts the focus of copyright history away from its longstanding concern with the protection of books and literary works, to other subject matter (visual arts, drama and news). The Introduction to Art and Modern Copyright argues that art added something new to the making of modern copyright law in the UK – the history of artistic copyright was in many respects distinct from the history of literary copyright – and provides an overview of the thematic chapters of the book that substantiate that claim: the protection of copyright ‘authors’ (i.e. the claims to protection advanced by painters, photographers and engravers), art collectors, sitters and the public interest. It also makes a number of more general claims about the value of copyright history. In particular, rather than looking to history to uncover a point of origin or foundational moment, Dr Cooper explores the value of history as a destabilising influence. In taking us to ways of thinking about copyright that, in some respects, differ starkly from our own and have no authority today or continuity with the present, history can sharpen the critical lens through which we view current copyright debates and lend to us a more flexible way of thinking through legal challenges today. Art and Modern Copyright was shortlisted by the Society of Legal Scholars for the Birks Book Prize for Outstanding Legal Scholarship in 2020. Drawing on extensive original archival work made possible by a Peter Orton Fellowship at Trinity Hall Cambridge, it significantly extends a PhD thesis (concerning photographic copyright only) supervised by Lionel Bently at Cambridge University, which was awarded a Yorke Prize by the Faculty of Law, Cambridge in 2011.

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