Wednesday 24 April 2013

100 years of Imperial Copyright: a book review

A Shifting Empire: 100 Years of the Copyright Act 1911, edited by Uma Suthersanen and Ysolde Gendreau, is a most unusual book.  Uma (Professor in International Intellectual Property Law, Queen Mary, University of London) and Ysolde (Professor of Law, Université de Montréal, Canada) have contrived to do something this blogger would have thought next to impossible: to revive interest in the fabled Imperial Copyright Act by framing it within a legal and historical context of a world that continued to change -- a world which was initially too small and unsophisticated for the copyright regime of the 1911 Act but which eventually matured and outgrew it.  As the publisher's blurb says:
"The 1911 Copyright Act, often termed the ‘Imperial Copyright Act’, changed the jurisprudential landscape in respect of copyright law, not only in the United Kingdom but also within the then Empire. This book offers a bird’s eye perspective of why and how the first global copyright law launched a new order, often termed the ‘common law copyright system’.

This carefully researched and reflective work draws upon some of the best scholarship from Australia, Canada, India, Israel, Jamaica, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa and United Kingdom. The authors – academics and practitioners alike – situate the Imperial Copyright Act 1911 within their national laws, both historically and legally. In doing so, the book queries the extent to which the ethos and legacy of the 1911 Copyright Act remains within indigenous laws.

A Shifting Empire offers a unique global, historical view of copyright development and will be a valuable resource for policy-makers, academic scholars and members of international copyright associations".
This blogger warmed to the book more than he expected to, possibly because -- in the days of his youth when he worked within the terms of the UK's  'modern' Copyright Act 1956 -- references to the Imperial Act imparted a sort of toxicity which is often found in the company of antiquated and increasingly irrelevant chunks of dead legislation. This book, while allowing the contributors the proper freedom of responsible criticism, lets the reader appreciate that this Act was once young, vibrant, commercially sound and full of meaning.

The list of contributors is both impressive and apt.  Given his interest in colonial copyright, Michael Birnhack must have been the most obvious name on the roll-call; Sam Ricketson too, with his Australian pedigree and his penchant for the patient historical analysis. The others are excellent too and, for this blogger, the eye-opener was Dianne Daley's chapter on Jamaica, a small nation about whose copyright affairs he was hitherto sadly ignorant. This book is never going to be a Harry Potter, but wouldn't it be grand if its sales matched its interest value.

Bibliographic data: Publication date March 2013.  ix + 251 pages.. Hardback ISBN 978 1 78100 308 4; ebook ISBN 978 1 78100 309 1. Price $115.00 ( online price $103.50). Web page here.

1 comment:

Andy J said...

As a bit of trivia, I think I am right in saying that the 1911 Act was never fully repealed. Everything except ss 15, 34 and 37 was repealed by the 1956 Act, and later s 15 was pared down by various Acts relating to the British Museum, until it was repealed in toto by the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003.
S 34 and s 37(2) were repealed by the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1986, meaning that s 37(1) is still in force. However, what s 37(1) says is hardly earth-shattering, namely "This Act may be cited as the Copyrightr Act, 1911"
Goodness only knows why that was not repealed at the same time as s 37(2).