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History of Copyright

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Manish Jindal

January 12, 2024


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History of Copyright

Are you curious to learn the history of copyright?

Delve into the world of intellectual property, the birthplace of the concept we know today as copyright, and embark on a captivating journey through history of copyright that brings to light how creators’ rights have evolved and shaped society as we know it.

The notion of copyright is so deeply ingrained in our modern culture, it’s easy to overlook its fascinating and intricate origins.

It’s more than just a tool to guard against plagiarism or protect creators’ financial interests.

From the invention of the printing press to the advent of digital media, copyright has transformed, adapted, and grown, acting as an engine for innovation, expression, and cultural development.

In this blog, we will travel back in time to the dawn of copyright, examining its purpose, the challenges faced in its evolution, and how it has impacted societal and technological advancements.

We’ll chronicle the pivotal moments and key figures who played crucial roles in the history of copyright.

When was Copyright Introduced in India?

The history of copyright in India dates back to the colonial period.

The first  law in India was introduced during the British Raj with the Act 1847, based on the UK’s Copyright Act 1842.

However, after India gained independence from British rule in 1947, there was a need for its own unique  law.

Thus, the Copyright Act of 1957 was enacted, which serves as the current primary legislation governing copyright in India.

This law, inspired by the British Act 1956, was designed to suit the particular needs of a newly independent India.

It has been amended several times since its inception to accommodate changes in technology, international law, and local circumstances, with significant revisions occurring in 1983, 1994, 1999, and 2012.

These amendments have further enriched and expanded the scope of protection in India, adapting it to the realities of the digital era.

Copyright Board in India

The Copyright Board in India is a statutory body that is responsible for adjudication of disputes pertaining to copyright registration, assignment of copyright, and related matters.

It also hears cases on compulsory licensing of copyrighted works.

History of Copyright Act in India

The history of the Copyright Act in India is deeply intertwined with the country’s journey towards independence and its subsequent efforts to build a legal system that supports creativity, intellectual property, and economic growth.

The history of copyright begun when first law in India, as mentioned earlier, was introduced during British colonial rule with the Copyright Act 1847.

But it was the  Act of 1957, enacted ten years after India gained independence, that set the stage for modern  law in India.

The Act of 1957 established comprehensive rules for the protection of literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, as well as cinematograph films and sound recordings.

The Act has been amended several times to keep pace with evolving technology and international standards, as well as to address local needs and conditions.

In 1983, a significant amendment was made to extend copyright protection to computer software and to increase the term of protection.

The amendment of 1994 addressed, among other things, issues of broadcasting and performance rights, taking into consideration the developments in satellite broadcasting, computer software, and digital technology.

It also expanded the definition of “communication to the public” to make it technology-neutral.

In 1999, the Act was amended to meet the requirements of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) treaties, leading to better author protection for the rights of performers and producers of phonograms.

The most recent major amendment was in 2012, which addressed a range of issues, including updating the law in line with digital technologies, protecting the moral rights of performers, ensuring protection for disabled persons, and protecting the rights of film and music producers.

The journey of the  Act in India reflects the country’s commitment to protecting and nurturing creativity and innovation.

As technology and creative industries continue to evolve, so will the nation’s  law, continuing to strive for the perfect balance between protecting rights and promoting innovation and public interest.

Rights of Owner in India

Now that we have looked briefly into the history of copyright, let us look into the rights of the copyright owner.

1. Economic Rights

Under the Indian Act, the rights of authors to reproduce the copyrighted work in any form. This includes the right to authorise or prevent the reproduction of their work.

2. Rights of Adaptation and Translation

An owner holds the exclusive right to adapt, translate, or arrange their work. They can control the usage of their work and its derivatives, allowing them to monetize their intellectual property.

3. Right of Public Performance

Copyright owners have the exclusive right to perform their works publicly, or to communicate them to the public.

This could include performing a play, screening a film, or playing a recorded piece of music.

4. Right of Broadcasting and Communication

The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to broadcast or communicate the work to the public by way of a satellite, radio, or television broadcast.

This also includes the right to control the use of their work on digital platforms.

5. Right of Distribution

The  owner has the exclusive right to distribute their work, by sale or other transfer of ownership. This also includes rental and lending rights.

6. Right of Moral Integrity

Owners in India are also entitled to moral rights.

These rights include the right to claim authorship of the work and to prevent any distortion, mutilation, or other alteration of the work that would be prejudicial to their honor or reputation.

7. Rights Against Importation

The owner has the right to prevent the importation of copies of the work, which could infringe upon their copyright.

These rights provide a comprehensive framework for owners to control the usage of their works and to seek legal remedies in case of copyright infringements.

However, these rights are subject to certain limitations intended to balance the interests of the owners with the public interest, such as the doctrine of fair use and provisions for compulsory licensing.

International Copyright Law – History of Copyright

International  law is a complex framework of different treaties and conventions designed to protect copyrights around the world.

While laws vary from country to country, these international agreements allow for certain standard principles, ensuring creators are protected across borders.

Let’s delve into some key elements that shape international law.

1. Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886)

The Berne Convention, developed in 1886, is one of the most important international agreements on  law.

It sets out the basic principles for protection of literary and artistic works, including that protection should not be conditional upon compliance with any formalities.

It also introduced the concept of “automatic protection”, which means that protection exists as soon as a work is created and does not require any formal registration.

2. Universal Convention (1952)

The Universal Convention (UCC) was established by UNESCO as an alternative to the Berne Convention to encourage countries, especially those that are not members of the Berne Union, to provide protection.

While less stringent than the Berne Convention, it does provide some basic protections and formalities for  registration.

3. World Intellectual Property Organisation Treaty (1996)

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Treaty updates the international  law framework for the digital age.

It covers computer programs and databases, which the Berne Convention does not explicitly mention.

The treaty also addresses rights in the digital environment and combats piracy by making it a crime to circumvent anti-piracy measures built into most commercial software.

4. Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)

The TRIPS agreement, administered by the World Trade Organisation, ensures that all member states provide a minimum standard of protection.

It also includes provisions on enforcing copyright, protecting against unfair competition, and more.

5. The Rome Convention (1961)

The Rome Convention secures protection for performers, producers of phonograms, and broadcasting organisations, which were not included in previous treaties.

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In conclusion, while there is no single “international law”, these treaties and conventions have created a universal framework that provides creators with protections worldwide.

These agreements enable creators to enforce their rights internationally and facilitate the legal distribution and use of creative works across borders.

Despite these international norms, practices may still vary considerably from one country to another, so it is essential to seek local legal advice when dealing with specific international  issues.

History of Copyright in US

Constitutional Basis (1787)

The concept of copyright in the United States is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, which delegates to Congress the power “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

The Copyright Act of 1790

The first federal  law was the  Act of 1790.

This law was based heavily on the British Statute of Anne (1710), and it granted American authors the right to print, re-print, or publish their work for a period of fourteen years and to renew for another fourteen.

The Copyright Act of 1831This law extended the initial copyright term to 28 years with the possibility of a 14-year extension, creating a maximum copyright term of 42 years.

This act also extended copyright to musical compositions.


This act extended the term of copyright to 28 years with a possible renewal of 28 more years.

It also covered all works of authorship for the first time, whether published or unpublished, but copyright was based on publication rather than creation.


This is the basis of current U.S. law. The 1976 Act extended the duration of copyright to the life of the author plus 50 years, or 75 years for works of corporate authorship.

It also significantly expanded what could be copyrighted, and made registration optional rather than mandatory.

The Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988

The U.S. joined the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which made U.S.law more compatible with that of other countries.

This removed the requirement for a notice on published works.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA)

This law modernized copyright law for the digital age. The DMCA criminalises the circumvention of digital rights management (DRM) measures and heightens the penalties for  infringement on the internet.

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term

This law extended terms in the U.S. to life of the author plus 70 years, and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier.

The Music Modernization Act of 2018

This law updated protections for the streaming era, ensuring better royalty rates for songwriters and artists from streaming platforms.


In conclusion, the history of copyright in the United States, from its initial inclusion in the U.S.

Constitution to the modern digital era, has been marked by a series of revisions and adaptations to meet the changing landscape of content creation and distribution.

Each modification to the law, from the Act of 1790 through to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Music Modernisation Act, has sought to strike a balance between promoting creative expression and invention and ensuring a fair return to creators.

These iterations have expanded the nature of copyrightable works, extended the term of protection, and addressed new issues raised by technological advancements.

However, the rapid pace of digital innovation continues to challenge the adaptability of law.

The ongoing evolution of this legislation reflects a dynamic struggle to reconcile the rights and interests of authors, publishers, consumers, and the public at large in a world where the creation, sharing, and consumption of content have become increasingly complex.

As we look forward, the future of copyright in the U.S. and globally will continue to evolve in response to changes in technology and society.

We hope that you learned the important points of history of copyright in India.

Frequently Asked Questions

When did the history of copyright first originate?

The concept of copyright dates back to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.

However, the first legal  protection was enacted with the British Statute of Anne in 1710.

In the United States, copyright is rooted in the Constitution, with the first federal law, the Copyright Act of 1790, enacted shortly after.

 Why was the Copyright Act of 1976 significant?

The Act of 1976 is significant because it overhauled the U.S. system for the first time in over a century.

It extended the duration of copyright to the life of the author plus 50 years, or 75 years for works of corporate authorship, and introduced the concept of “fair use.”
It also made copyright automatic, eliminating the need for registration or the use of a  notice.

 What is the DMCA, and why is it important?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 is a U.S. law that updated the nation’s copyright law for the digital age.

The DMCA criminalises the production and dissemination of technology intended to circumvent digital rights management (DRM) measures, effectively providing additional protections to copyright holders against unauthorised access to their copyrighted works.

How has copyright law evolved in response to changes in technology?

Copyright law has consistently evolved to address technological advancements that change how works are created, distributed, and consumed.

Notably, the Act of 1909 extended protections to all works of authorship, published or unpublished.

The DMCA in 1998 addressed the rise of the digital age and the Internet.
More recently, the Music Modernization Act of 2018 was passed to better handle the realities of music streaming services.

Why was the Sonny Bono  Term Extension Act controversial?

The Sonny Bono  Term Extension Act of 1998 extended  terms in the U.S. to life of the author plus 70 years, and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication.

The extension was controversial because many saw it as benefiting corporations at the expense of the public domain.

Critics dubbed it the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” because one of the beneficiaries was the Walt Disney Company, whose copyright for the first Mickey Mouse film was set to expire.

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