Article Title

What Authors Do


Simon Stern


Joseph Loewenstein, The Author's Due: Printing and the Prehistory of Copyright. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Pp. x, 349. $45 (cloth).

Joseph Loewenstein, Ben Jonson and Possessive Authorship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. xii, 221. $65.00 (cloth).

Research on the relations among copyright law, authorship, and the literary marketplace has long been a major focus of scholarship in law and literature, and yet much of this research has been only haltingly interdisciplinary at best. Authorial views of literary proprietorship do not necessarily match up with the prevailing legal views, but the interest in the discrepancy lies not in simply cataloguing the differences and asking which rule would best promote the production of writing, but rather in considering the sources, manifestations, and consequences of these alternative positions. Writers often are not unaware of the legal provisions but are skeptical of their premises; conversely, where authorial views of ownership outstrip those mandated by law, writers may seek to model the rules that are lacking. Both the skepticism and the modeling are less likely to become visible through direct assertions than, for example, through plots whose animating tensions involve various forms of ownership and their limits. It does not follow that doctrinal scholarship has nothing to contribute to such an investigation, since such scholarship involves examining the assumptions behind rules that differentiate idea from expression, or that allow parodies to use only so much as is necessary to "conjure up" the derided original. It is precisely because literary texts also undertake that kind of testing, but without enumerating the results in propositional form, that an interdisciplinary engagement with these questions has so much to offer.

These two new books by Joseph Loewenstein' lean more towards the literary critical than the doctrinal, though they include extensive discussions of legal history. On the one hand, Loewenstein builds on the work of such literary critics as Martha Woodmansee, Mark Rose, Paulina Kewes, and Laura Rosenthal. On the other hand, in exploring the context for the English copyright statute that inaugurated the modem phase of copyright law--the 1710 Act of Anne--Loewenstein joins such historians as John Feather, Lyman Ray Patterson, Harry Ransom, and David Saunders. Loewenstein's books come in the midst of a flurry in this area: The last two years have seen the publication of two particularly sophisticated discussions of copyright and authorship, along with important new treatments of the history and cultural place of intellectual property rights.