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Reviews389 Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright, by Mark Rose; 176 pp. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993, $27.50. Foucault's famous question, "What Is an Author?" lies as a permanent gauntlet, defamiliarizing a concept that had seemed plain, challenging scholars to refocus our understanding. In recent years, "authorship" has been approached as a discourse within Anglo-American law, a legislative andjudicial construction responsive to changes in the way literature and economics had come to relate. In Authors and Owners, Mark Rose, perhaps the leading figure behind this impetus, draws on his own and other seminal studies to offer a summa of how the proprietary author evolved. In Rose's view, the first copyright law in the world, the 1710 Statute of Anne, represents the concatenation of Lockean notions of possessive individualism, entitling the individual to property in his work, and changing concepts of property itself, whereby a "text" (as distinct from a physical manuscript) could have economic incidents not unlike that of fixed, permanent land. The statute did not, however, settle questions affecting the exact nature of an author's property interest, or the actual definition of the protected text. Rose examines how these were laboriously, contentiously refined, especially after the initial copyright term appeared to run out, and "reprint houses" challenged the major booksellers' monopoly of classics such as Shakespeare and Milton. The booksellers were in virtually all cases the copyright owners, since copyright was either routinely assigned by authors or subsistent from the prestatutory period. The statute did, however, make two major changes. It vested copyright in the author. It also initiated a regime of economic regulation , since Parliament turned back pleas to reinstate the authority of the Stationers' Company, the booksellers' guild, which licensed texts in exchange for a de facto monopoly. The booksellers found it convenient to assert the author's copyright when, upon expiration of the statutory term, they claimed that authors still possessed a right at common law which the statute had not defeated. Thus ownership of copyright, now vested in the booksellers, would be perpetual, like any other kind of property, and reprint houses could be prosecuted for piracy. Rose's discussion of the decision that ruled against this claim, establishing the concept of "public domain" and balancing the right of the author with the interest of readers, is masterful. The idea of the text, of a property cognizable and protectible under law, evolved in tandem with the idea of the Author, an originary individual whose work was unique, the expression of his own personality. Rose explores the proto-romantic discourse of "original genius," which like the Lockean discourse of property was concerned with the worth of texts. Building on the work of Martha Woodmansee, who first argued the importance of figures such as Edward Young to the relationship between genius and literary proprietorship, 390Philosophy and Literature Rose examines how theorists sought to anchor the ownership of texts in the distinctive traits of iconic individuals. Not merely ideas, but their unique expression by individuals, became the basis of copyright. However, while the convergence of text and author was fundamental, it should be noted that there was a counterstrain in literary discourse, wherein the idea of "genius" was actively opposed to market considerations. It remains to be determined whether Rose's account of the Author is sufficiently complicated. The most important lacuna in Rose's text occurs in the last chapter, where he asserts that despite the incredible ease of reproducing almost any work, copyright should nonetheless be retained. Because it functions on the border of public and private, helping to organize our conceptions of those spheres, it is intrinsic to "the sense of who we are" (p. 142). But are we "who we are" anymore? Computerized texts have virtually erased the distinction between author and reader. A hypertext is by definition open, manipulable, the very opposite of the fixed, bordered, printed text on which copyright was founded. Our idea ofreality, as that is mediated by textuality, has altered forever. Without broaching the issue of hypertext, and addressing the work of theorists such as Richard Lanham, George Landow, and Jay David Bolter—all of whom argue that the computer and copyright are...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 389-390
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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