Copyright protection began when the printing press gave thieves easy ability to reproduce multiple copies of original work more quickly and cheaply. Before the printing press, copyists had to make the effort and take a very long time to hand-copy a manuscript.
Technology, the printing press, changed everything. Digital technology continues to provide new challenges to copyright laws.
Copyright law began in England in the 16th century. The government was already involved in sanctioning and supporting printing privileges to printers in exchange for their political loyalty. But the rights of the creators vs. the printers were not protected until the early 18th century when Parliament passed England’s first copyright law.
This law, in the 1700s, gave legal claim of ownership to the creator of the work (or to the person who purchased the rights to the work from the creator).
British copyright law was the law of the colonies until 1776, when the U.S. Constitution provided the basic authority for our U.S. copyright law. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 says “The Congress shall have Power . . . To promote the Progress of Science the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
This gave Congress the power to legislate patent laws and copyright laws, which they did in 1790, voting a law similar to the British laws. The copyright law gave U.S. citizens/creators/authors/artists the right to protect books, maps and charts they created.
The U.S. operates under the assumption that fostering the creative spirit is a good thing for a country. There must be a protected right, a reward, for creating. As such, copyright has been called “the engine of freedom of expression.”
In 1909 a major revision of the law was enacted and then again, our current law, is based on a 1976 revision.
The copyright law gives creators, authors, of the copyright exclusive rights to reproduce their work in any form for any reason. The creator’s rights include decisions on reproducing the work, which derivative works can be prepared and created, distribution publicly of the work, public performance of the work, and now, digital sound recording.
Interestingly, facts, trivial materials, ideas and equations cannot be copyrighted.
Other related issues include “fair use” and misappropriation, parodies, trademarks, etc.
People who defend EGW’s plagiarism as a matter of God overruling the laws of earth to use angels to point out passages from other authors to copy which Adventists can then hold as holy writ, are violating the law of God, the Ten Commandments. “Thieves” abuse copyright laws, as they were called in 1700’s England. It’s not just unethical, it’s unlawful.
If Adventists want to wink at copyright law, that opens the door for a lot of other winking of laws that protect not just creators, but provide fairness and justice in many areas of life, the system upon which our laws are based. Not a can of worms you really want to open by creating an exception for copyright.