This may be of interest to the QCO crowd. Eric Anderson has put his dissertation, “Pimps and Ferrets: Copyright and Culture in the United States, 1831-1891” online under a Creative Commons license. I notice he’s at Bowling Green University, home of the Browne Popular Culture Library, an amazing repository of American popular culture (post 1876). If you ever find yourselves in Western OH, do take a trip to the library!
Title: Pimps and Ferrets: Copyright and Culture in the United States, 1831-1891
Author: Anderson, Eric
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Bowling Green State University, American Culture Studies/History, 2007.
Advisor: Philip G Terrie
How did people think about copyright in the nineteenth century? What did they think it was? What was it for? Was it property? Or something else? How did it function? Who could it benefit? Who might it harm? Pimps and Ferrets: Copyright and Culture in the United States, 1831-1891addresses questions like these, unpacking the ideas and popular ideologies connected to copyright in the United States during the nineteenth-century.
This era was rife with copyright-related controversy and excitement, including international squabbling, celebrity grandstanding, new technology, corporate exploitation, and ferocious arguments about piracy, reprinting, and the effects of copyright law. Then, as now, copyright was very important to a small group of people (authors and publishers), and slightly important to a much larger group (consumers and readers). However, as this dissertation demonstrates, these larger groups did have definite ideas about copyright, its function, and its purpose, in ways not obvious to the denizens of the legal and authorial realms.
This project draws on methods from both social and cultural history. Primary sources include a broad swath of magazine and newspaper articles, letters, and editorials about various copyright-related controversies. Examining these sources – both mainstream and obscure – illustrates the diversity of thinking about copyright issues during the nineteenth century, and suggests alternative frameworks for considering copyright in other times.
7 Comments on "Pimps and Ferrets: Copyright and Culture in the United States, 1831-1891"
Nice catch! It’s great to see more research into copyright controversies of the past. One thing I’m constantly struck by when talking to people about copyright is that we don’t, as a society, have any sense that copyright been controversial to a wide range of parties, or that people have always had very different conceptions of how copying should be handled. Bringing this history alive is a good thing.
Too bad Anderson used a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license for the dissertation (as opposed to plain Attribution or Attribution-ShareAlike). Why rule out commercial reuse, after all? If someone printed his dissertation and sold it in bookstores — as happened with the 9/11 Commission Report, for example, since it is in the public domain — would that really be a problem? It would probably benefit him. But still, it’s great that he at least used a more liberal copyright than most.
I’m constantly struck by when talking to people about copyright is that we don’t, as a society, have any sense that copyright been controversial to a wide range of parties, or that people have always had very different conceptions of how copying should be handled. Bringing this history alive is a good thing.
I agree completely, and this is exactly the point of this research.
Why rule out commercial reuse, after all?
First, for an aspiring academic, the dissertation needs to form the basis for the first (traditionally academic) book. Allowing other commercial uses could interfere.
Second, after it has been accepted, a dissertation is a typically a fixed text, with no easy method for minor revision. In theory, restricting commercial uses works to create a point of intervention for the writer, should they wish to make minor changes.
More topically, given the interests of this site, readers who just want to dip into Pimps and Ferrets might find the section on (“Jacksonian”) Republican Copyright amusing, roughly pp. 17-25.
Thanks for the reply, Eric. Your second point about controlling commercial reuse is especially interesting; in a way, it gets more at attribution concerns than at copying or derivation per se.
Two unrelated things:
1) If you send us a photo, we’ll place it by the article about your dissertation (running photos of authors or subjects, near where their work is discussed, is something we do to humanize the site and to give visual respite on otherwise text-heavy pages). If you’d rather not, we certainly understand; but if you’re willing, just post a URL to an image and we’ll take it from there, or send it by email (see http://questioncopyright.org/contact).
2) I sent a note to OhioLINK ETD, asking them if they’d consider putting the copyright information on their abstract pages. We’ll see what happens :-).
controlling commercial reuse is especially interesting […] it gets more at attribution concerns than at copying or derivation per se.
At a general level, this restriction of commercial reproduction also illustrates how copyright is sometimes associated with (quasi-) control of the text, in particular the distribution of an “authoritative” text. There are plenty of historical precedents… (e.g. British petitioners for International Copyright, pp. 35-36).
As an academic, the scenario also illustrates how older structures for constructing and validating the stuff we call “knowledge” are (partially) based on (pre-digital) assumptions about a fixed text.
By the way, I got a reply from OhioLINK ETD. The relevant part is:
“Actually, I’ve been working on a new submission process that does give them the option for a Creative Commons license.”
They didn’t specify which Creative Commons license, or whether it would be only one or several, but the overall direction seems promising…
I just started reading this fine disseration on a topic about which there hasn’t been enough written. Skimming through it and the bibliography, I’m disappointed that there is nothing on Lysander Spooner’s writing on intellectual property (see his “Law of Intellectual Property”  and two other works, reprinted in v. 3 of The Collected Works of Lysander Spooner, available on the web). Also, the Licensing Act expired in May 1695 (at least according to Ronan Deazley), not 1694, as is commonly asserted.
When I finish, I’ll post something at http://www.againstmonopoly.org.
Thanks, Bill. One thing that still surprises me is that schools do not require that dissertations be posted electronically on a site that can accept comments (such as your comment about his bibliography). No doubt the author was already aware of Lysander Spooner, but if he weren’t, he shouldn’t have to look here to find out :-).
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