America’s First Copyright Law – 1790

America’s First Copyright Law – 1790

America’s First Copyright Law - 1790
America’s First Copyright Law – 1790 – Just nine days after enactment of America’s first copyright law, John Barry of Philadelphia received the first copyright of the United States on his Philadelphia Spelling Book.

George Washington (1732–1799)

The Copyright Act of 1790 was adopted by the United States Congress in 1790 to establish copyright laws for intellectual works made by US citizens and lawful residents.

“An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by securing the Copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of such Copies, for the Times therein specified,” was the formal title of the first such federal statute. For a once-renewable time of 14 years, the legislation gave writers (or their executors, administrators, or assigns) “the exclusive right and liberty of printing, reprinting, publishing, and selling” their works.

To protect a work’s copyright, an author was obliged to send a copy to the clerk of the local district court and another copy to the United States Secretary of State within six months after the work’s publication. A fine of 50 cents per printed page of copyrighted material in a person’s possession was imposed on those found guilty of breaching another’s copyright. Within two weeks after the law’s adoption, the first copyright was awarded under it.

The original copyright period was extended to 28 years in 1831, when the statute was first updated. The Library of Congress took over the management of copyright registrations from the district courts in 1870.


The Statute of Anne (1710);

The Berne Convention (1878);

The Copyright Act of 1976; Expanded Copyrights (2001).


America’s First Copyright Law – 1790

Full Text of the America’s First Copyright Law – 1790

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)