As I wrote in my earlier post, CCC is pleased to offer a new ebook, “Creating Solutions Together: Lessons to Inform the Future of Collective Licensing.” We published it to introduce some of the “whys & hows” of collective licensing, the general origins of collective licensing as a business model, and specifically about how CCC was established to help licensees access high-value content while ensuring appropriate remuneration back to publishers and other rightsholders. You can read and download the ebook here.

With that goal in mind, CCC called together three leading copyright and licensing experts, Lois Wasoff, Mark Seeley, and Bruce Rich, to contribute essays to the ebook. Our featured essay today focuses on Seeley’s “Evolution of Copyright Law, from Guild and Printing Monopolies to Human and Natural Rights.”

Seeley presents and comments regularly on publishing, licensing and copyright issues, as well as consulting on science publishing and legal issues through SciPubLaw LLC. Before retiring in 2017 from his position as Senior Vice President & General Counsel for Elsevier, Seeley served on the Copyright Committees of both the International STM Association and the Association of American Publishers. He also teaches international intellectual property law as adjunct faculty at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

As we learn in Seeley’s essay, the ultimate sources of both copyright as the basis of a group of businesses and of collective licensing of copyrights go back centuries and extend across oceans and continents. While the Anglo-American approach to copyright — going back before the 1710 Statute of Anne to Queen Mary’s 1557 grant of monopoly powers to a publishers’ guild — places a strong emphasis on the commercialization of one’s works, the Continental approach (stemming from the patrie of Victor Hugo) is equally valid in emphasizing the creative authors’ “moral rights,” such as the rights of correct attribution and of protection against the misuse, unauthorized editing, or distortion of their works. The systems of collective licensing developed to accommodate these two approaches reflect their origins —and yet persist into our own times. Times and mores which, while impelled by new digital technologies, remain linked to the human past of individual expression, and by extension, its economic support and encouragement.

As Seeley explains, collective licensing is “inextricably connected to the evolution of copyright law as an individual or natural/human right,” and helps to support the operation of a healthy, sustainable market for works under copyright. I think this phrasing encapsulates what I see as a fundamentally important point: the core goals of expression are to both find an audience and communicate a message to it; copyright and licensing mechanisms are socially useful to the extent that they serve those goals.

“Rights, however, are but empty promises unless they can be exercised…”

Seeley concludes by bringing these historical considerations into the present day, discussing the United States’ Conference on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works (CONTU) in the 1970’s which, somewhat ahead of its time, focused on technology, the use of works under copyright, and licensing.  In that context, CONTU touched on the establishment of Copyright Clearance Center and its initial licensing offer. Finally, in a sidebar, Seeley addresses the specific value that collective licensing brings to the scientific and scholarly publishing communities.

There is much fodder for thought here. The technology of printing is perhaps 10 centuries old at this point, and yet the technologies of publishing and distribution are still racing forward in this 21st century. Copyright and licensing are not quite so ancient, but they continue to support the very human goals that they have from their beginnings. As this essay argues so trenchantly, there is every reason to expect that they will persist in doing so.


Author: Dave Davis

Dave Davis joined CCC in 1994 and currently serves as a research consultant. He previously held directorships in both public and corporate libraries and earned joint master’s degrees in Library and Information Sciences and Medieval European History from Catholic University of America. He is the owner/operator of Pyegar Press, LLC.
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