History shows that intellectual property is more complex than either its creators or copiers care to admit, says a Chicago scholar
The history of publishing is swimming with pirates–far more than Adrian Johns expected when he started hunting through the archives for them. And he thinks their stories may hold keys to understanding the latest battles over digital publishing–and the future of the book.
Johns, a historian at the University of Chicago, has done much of his hunting from his office here, which is packed so high with books that the professor bought a rolling ladder to keep them in easy reach. He can rattle off a long list of noted pirates through the years:
Alexander Pope accused “pyrates” of publishing unauthorized copies of his work in the 18th century. At the beginning of the 19th century, a man known as the “king of the pirates” used the then-new technology of photolithography to spread cheap reprints of popular sheet music. In the 1950s, a pirate music label named Jolly Roger issued recordings by Louis Armstrong and other jazz greats from LP’s that the major labels were no longer publishing. A similar label put out opera recordings smuggled from the Soviet bloc.