Mark Rose “Pope V. Curll” and “Authors and Owners”

  1. Mark Rose–“Pope vs Curll”
    Rose’s first article summarizes the case that first established that authors have intellectual property rights over their works, and discusses both the effects of the court decision and how the case is situated within contemporary notions of the role of the author and of how the book trade works. Alexander Pope sued the bookseller Edmund Curll in June 1741 for publishing a series of letters exchanged between Pope and Dean Swift without Pope’s permission. Rose situates the case historically: the eighteenth century marks a period of transition from the patronage system to one more like our current system of literary production, and so he both emphasizes the legal precedent for the Pope suit and the way in which its ideological focus differs from current conceptions of copyright.
    The legal precedent for Pope V. Curll is the 1710 Statute of Anne, which established that authors were the original owners of the rights to their works. It was based upon current patent law, and hence allowed authors and booksellers the right to their works for fourteen years, and twenty-one years for works that predated the statute. However, despite legal grounds for authorial copyright, Rose suggests that the participants in the case wouldn’t have viewed the case as a violation of property rights so much as a violation of propriety–it’s a publication of personal correspondence, which Pope argued was ungentlemanly to do without permission of both the authors and recipients of the letters. Pope claimed copyright over both the letters he wrote and the letters he received, however the case decided that he only had copyright over the letters he personally composed, not those written to him. This distinction is actually essential to our current notion of copyright because the case forced the judge to distinguish between the material property of the received letter, which belongs to the recipient, and the immaterial property of the text of the letter, which belongs to the author.
    Rose, however, suggests that Pope’s motivations were somewhat mercenary for the time–he suggests that Pope tricked Curll into publishing his letters without authorization so that Pope could then publish an authorized version of his letters without seeming indecorous for doing so.

    “The Author as Proprietor: Donaldson v. Becket and the Genealogy of Modern Authorship”
    Rose’s second article details the circumstances behind the one of the next instrumental cases in the history of copyright law, Donaldson v. Becket, which centred around the question of whether or not authors owned intellectual rights to their books in perpetuity, and subsequently, whether the booksellers they transferred these rights to could keep them in perpetuity the same way they could keep an inherited property.
    Rose argues that three cultural forces propel the development of copyright–mass-market publication, the valorization of original genius, and Locke’s idea that a person’s work is by right theirs. He argues that these concepts merge into the notion of the author as proprietor in the eighteenth century
    Rose also argues that the emerging concept of copyright forced people to renegotiate the concepts of author and text. The proponents of perpetual copyright had to argue that the text itself of the author is akin to property in the author’s possession, which again differentiated between the physical manuscript the author owned and the intellectual property of the text itself. Conversely, those in favour of limited copyright argued that the ideas in a book were akin to those in patents, and should be legislated as such, while the proponents of eternal copyright argued that the essence of a literary work was inherent in the style and composition rather than simply mere ideas. The net result of the debate was that aspects of each group’s position became entrenched in the conception of what authorship and literature are–literary works were seen as property, and as intangible objects that included the sentiment and style of the author’s prose, yet the court’s ruling in favour of limited copyright also conceived of literary works, in a broad sense, as a sort of idea or social good that should be made available to the public after a span of time. In short, the debate forced a renegotiation of the idea of what literature and composition entail even as the case proceeded.

    I thought Rose’s articles were lucid examinations of the relationship between copyright legislation and the popular conception of authorship and literary texts. Rose was at times repetitive, however, on the whole, I felt that the articles contextualized copyright legislation within the cultural moment of 18th century England well, and that they traced the development of the notion of the author as it was reflected on copyright rulings.