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How did copyrights develop in the U.S.?

The history of copyright is an interesting thing. It started as long ago as the 1700s, with the first copyright law enacted in America in 1790. Before splitting off from Britain, a similar law, the Statute of Anne, was used. The United States based its first copyright law on this statute, determining that it would protect maps, charts and books for 14 years after their registrations and another 14 after that. It was a limited law that worked at the time.

Over time, copyright laws have changed. In 1831, the laws were expanded to protect maps, charts and books for 28 years at a time instead of 14. Then, throughout the 1800s, the items protected under copyright increased to include historical and other prints, photographs, visual art and dramatic works. Even the right to perform or use musical compositions began to fall under the protection of the government's laws.

By 1834, it was required to report and record copyright assignments, starting the beginnings of the Copyright Office, which was officially created in 1897. By the early 1890s, copyright relations with foreign countries were established, protecting U.S. citizens' rights further.

Today, copyright laws help protect your works from being stolen or used when you don't want them to be. Your copyright protects your art, music or other types of works from others while giving you the right to authorize others to use those works for a fee or at your discretion. If someone decides to use your copyrighted work without permission, then you may pursue a legal claim against that party.

Source:, "The 18th Century," accessed April 25, 2018

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