Copyright and the public interest
The law of copyright will celebrate its tricentennial in thirteen years time. First introduced in England in 1709 in response to the invention of printing, its history has been one of constant development to keep pace with significant changes in technology. In the 1990s, copyright is more topical than ever. The potential for worldwide distribution of multi-media works over the emerging Global Information Infrastructure is the latest challenge facing the copyright system. This situation has prompted ambitious programmes for copyright reform and harmonisation at national level and within the Berne Union and the European Union. It is timely therefore to reexamine the basic justifications for copyright. The first two legislative texts on copyright, the UK Statute of Anne 1709 and the Copyright Clause of the US Constitution 1787, embodied the concept that providing copyright protection for authors for a limited time would encourage and promote learning and progress and thus act for the public good. The thesis explores the underlying principles governing copyright legislation in the light of the proposition that copyright is a just and proper concept, established and developed in the public interest. In recent years, this proposition has been contested in the context of the challenges to the copyright system posed by technical developments. In this debate, the philosophical basis for copyright and its moral and economic functions have been called into question and the public interest has been invoked, not in favour of improved protection for copyright owners, but in favour of free and unfettered access by the public to copyright works. By reexamining these issues, the thesis aims to contribute to the ongoing debate on public policy in relation to copyright reform and harmonisation.