Whoa. This is post #300. That sounds like a really big number to me. In honor of this momentous occasion (Momentous for me–I’m sure there’re many bloggers out there going: “Well, you don’t write too much do you?) I think that today I’ll talk about a piece of legislation that is 300 years old and very important to writers.
Three hundred-ish years ago, Queen Anne signed The Copyright Act of 1709, which went into effect in 1710, essentially the first copyright stating that a work belonged to the author.
Prior to that, authors sold their works directly to booksellers, who then claimed ownership and publication rights. (Imagine a world where the author is paid only an initial lump sum and that’s it.) As a large example of the rules prior to this statute, think of Shakespeare, the Bard His Own Self.
Yeah, he didn’t own those plays.
His company did. The plays were written for the King’s Men and with the King’s Men they stayed. So when the First Folio came out it was put together by Shakespeare’s company buddies to honor their friend–but it wasn’t necessarily to benefit his heirs, or even themselves, with royalty rights.
Queen Anne’s Statute changed how people thought of authorship. It went from the distribution groups to the creator. It’s remained that way since, and has gotten larger. Today you get kicked out of college for plagiarism, but Shakespeare could have lifted whatever he wanted and been called Legendary. (Not that I think everyone should go out and plagiarize, it’s just an illustration.)
Today the question of authorship has been brought up repeatedly as the medium in which writing and how it’s distributed changes. For example, this blog. Do I own the material or does Blogger? If I post someting on Facebook, does that belong to me or Facebook? Is it published since it’s available for public consumption?
With the available technology and the level of collaboration that can be accomplished, who owns what and where in a big project? Where do the international laws come into play?
I have no idea what the answers to any of these questions are. I fully welcome any thoughts! In the meantime, I’ll just rest on the satisfaction that I’ve written 300 blog entries so far. Whether I own them or not….
**And somewhat along those lines, courtesy of Nathan Bransford: