Who Owns This Sentence?: A History of Copyrights and Wrongs

Norton. Jan. 2024. 384p. ISBN 9781324073710. $28.99. LAW
Translator/biographer Bellos (French and comparative literature, Princeton Univ.; The Novel of the Century) and intellectual property lawyer Montagu (comparative literature, Princeton Univ.; The Riddle of the Sphinx) team up for an expansive intellectual discussion of copyright law and its origins. Covering centuries of history in 44 chapters, the book reads like an extended lecture by favorite history professors. It is not a primer on copyright law or even a chronological description of its development. Instead, the authors describe how publishers dominated the spread of information, which caused England, in the 1700s, to give more power to authors. The book moves back and forth in time while devoting chapters to major laws such as the Berne Copyright Convention, the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, and major court cases that protect and give rights to authors. There are many fascinating stories in the book involving Mark Twain, Disney’s Steamboat Willie, and Plato’s outrage that notes of his lectures were being copied and sold. The authors conclude that rights issues have spread from printed works to the development of image rights, music and other recordings, architecture, and software.
VERDICT Readers interested in the protection of information will find much to savor.
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