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Author's copyright

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Image: John Vernon Lord, The Nonsense Verse of Edward Lear, Methuen

On this day in 1710 (in the old calendar it was 1709, almost three hundred years ago), Britain established the world's first fully-fledged copyright law. Without it, it's doubtful that Charles Dickens, Ian McEwan, JK Rowling or many other authors would ever have bothered to write.

Before Parliament passed the copyright law, only publishers had copyright protections; authors had none. They did not own their works and could not collect royalties. Under the new law the author received exclusive rights, limited to 21 years, after which the work entered the public domain.

It's fascinating to see how the law of copyright protects both property and innovation - and people as diverse as inventors, entrepreneurs and artists.

On the other side of the page, fair use and public domain are also fundamental to creativity, scientific breakthroughs and even prosperity so, like most things in life, balance is necessary. I think it's been a pretty salubrious state of affairs so far.

COPYRIGHT