Semantron 23 Summer 2023

Copyright law, creativity and innovation

Yan Hung Lui


Copyright law exists to protect an author’s work. No one can use their work without permission and benefit from it. However, since the range of protections needed to enforce authors’ right is enormous, it may limit the way we innovate or create. This essay looks at three things: firstly, whether copyright stifles or promotes creativity and/or innovation; secondly, whether the way copyright law stands today needs to change, and lastly whether the law encompasses our technological advancement. Copyright originates from the Republic of Venice. The first copyright was granted for Historiae Rerum Venetarum ab Urbe Condita Opus by Marcus Antonius Coccius Sabellicus in 1486. From 1492 onwards, other European countries started to grant copyright privileges for books. The objective of granting copyright was to regulate and control the output owing to the invention of the printing press in 1440. In England, the first exclusive copyright was granted to Richard Pynson, a royal printer, in 1518. The grant prohibited anyone from printing certain speeches for two years. The Statute of Anne was then established. The objective of this act was ‘ for the encouragement of learning ’ . 1 This law gave rise to the idea that copyright is an automatic right, arising from the moment a piece of work was created. The law further enhanced the protection of creative works by increasing the duration of protection and protecting a wider range of people. The statute stated that the copyright of the work would last for 14 years and a further 14 years if the author was still alive. In 1886 the heads of 10 states, including the United Kingdom, France, Haiti, and Tunisia, signed the Berne Convention. 2 The convention provided a minimum standard and duration of protection. The convention also encouraged international collaboration to protect the rights of authors in foreign countries. This was an important first step towards protecting authors in developing countries as well as making it difficult to take the work and carry out infringements in countries that are not signatories. Currently, only ten countries do not participate in any copyright agreements. 3 The convention benefits the author of the work since it creates ‘a system of reciprocity of copyright enforcement’. 4 1 Deazley, R. and Kretschmer, M. and Bently, L. (2010) Privilege and Property. Essays on the History of Copyright. Available at: (Accessed: 13 December 2021). 2 ‘Berne Convention’ (2021) Wikipedia. Available at:,it%20on%20 5%20September%201887 (Accessed: 06 November 2021). 3 ‘List of parties to international copyright agreements’ (2022) Wikipedia. Available at: nuary%202022%2C%20Eritrea,party%20to%20any%20copyright%20convention (Accessed: 03 April 2022). 4 LexisNexis and Squire Sanders (2012) International Aspects of Copyright. Available at: copyright/files/international-aspects-of-copyright-practice%20note/fileattachment/international-aspects-of- copyright-practice-note.pdf (Accessed: 21 November 2021).


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