The legal concept of copyright was invented in Britain in the eighteenth century. The Oxford English Dictionary traces its etymology to the first official use of the noun, "copyright," in Parliament in 1735:
1735 Parl. Coll., House of Lords 6 May (H.L.R.O.), The Editions and Impressions of such Books made and published as well in Great Britain as in Ireland and Scotland by persons who have paid no considerations for the Copy-right of such Books.
The foundational establishing of the legal concept of "copyright" had, and certainly still does have, widespread implications in economic, social, and political realms- just to name a few. One of the most profound implications of this legal concept was (and is) the formal organization of the notion that one can "own" ideas. This notion that ideas can be "owned" was, and still is, an extremely powerful one. Among those implications was simply the beginning of a regulated discourse around the question: can a text be "original"? Can it be "inauthentic"? If a text could be "owned" or "attributed" to a single author, then the ideas within them could likewise be "owned." In this way came about the founding and the establishing of a direct, one-way street between the ideas of a text and their reader. Some people have called this connection between idea and text "intention." As audiences, authors, and publishers alike have grown increasingly concerned with these notions of 'authenticity' and 'intention,' so too, likewise, we have become more and more concerned with this concept of the 'edition.' Take for example, the arguments that have raged for quite some time over which printed folio of Shakespeare's King Lear is the "original"- it seems a natural route to seek out the 'intentions' of such an infamous author by looking to those texts that might be termed 'his originals.' While various scholars may disagree with this tactic, no one is confused by it- and we will not be surprised to continue to witness these arguments rage on for quite some time. However, as this brief, over-generalized introduction has endeavored to show, while believing in 'authenticity' and 'intention' has become a part of our everyday discourse surrounding literature (both contemporary and not), I remain skeptical as to whether or not the questions of 'authenticity' and 'originality' are in fact timeless, or eternal questions. While copyright laws have been bound up intricately with the history of the book, it remains nevertheless valuable to question the ways in which our ingrained understanding of the history of books and the history of ideas of books has perhaps influenced our perception of errors within books- editorial errors, textual errors, typos, and the like.
Posted by Katya at 00:04