U.S.copyright law's foundations are found in English law. Early English copyright law could be considered a form of censorship. The crown feared that anyone who had access to a printing press could print materials which would undermine the government. To ensure that this threat to the crown did not happen, under an act of the crown a special licensing act was enacted. The licensing act decreed a special license was necessary to publish a work. This license could only be obtained from the Royal Stationer's Company. Thus through this enactment this license ensured a monopoly for the Royal Stationer's Company. The ability to publish works was limited to a select few. Authors were thus limited in their ability to disseminate their works and the public was blocked from access, a very effective type of censorship.
Due to this disparity and inequity there was a strong desire to change the law. This became possible when the licensing act expired. It was not renewed. A new law was enacted in 1710, the Statue of Anne was enacted called more specifically "A bill for the encouragement of learning and for securing the property of copies of books to the rightful owner thereof". This liberated the law and destroyed the printer's monopoly and at the same time ensured authors could maintain a copyright to their work for a 14 year period. This was the first true copyright act ever passed in the world.
Copyright presents a unique concept of rights, complex at times and ambiguous at others. It enables either the creator of an original work or the owner of the copyright to control the use of the intellectual rights to the property and prevent others from utilizing the work as they might choose without the specific permission of the owner. This is a unique property concept in the law normally, the protection afforded property is in a more direct and concrete form such as we are familiar with in real property or personal property. Copyright essentially is the means to reward creativity by the originator by monetary reimbursement. The basic reasons for this specialized treatment of particular endeavors are centered on three reasons:
1. To reward the creators of original works for their labor.
2. To promote and encourage the dissemination of creative works to the public.
3. To encourage the access to creative works by the public.
Copyright Law is a balancing of the rights of the creator vs. the public or the user. The copyright holder's interest is weighed along with the public interest in intellectual freedom, freedom of expression and dissemination of information. Educators and students are both copyright holders and copyright users and need to know their rights in these differing roles.
It is important to know your rights in regard to copyright laws. By knowing the basic rights one can apply them in a reasonable and hopefully good faith manner. Knowledge can prevent unnecessary litigation and perhaps even liability. The full exercise of your rights as either a holder or user is important to promote intellectual as well as academic freedom. Knowledge of copyright will help us manage these resources better.