Between 1783 and 1786, before the Constitution was even drafted, 12 of 13 states passed copyright acts. The federal Constitution of 1787, subsequently ratified by the states, gave to the Congress the authority to enact copyright laws for the nation. Our Constitution provides in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, that:
[t]he Congress shall have power: to promote the progress of science and the useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.
From 1790 onward, Congress enacted 23 additional copyright statutes over the next 115 years. However, the statutes that effect U.S. copyrighted works are the Act of 1909 and the current Act of 1976.
The Copyright Act of 1909 remains relevant because certain issues involving items copyrighted before 1978 are still resolved by the terms of the earlier statute. The original Act, unamended, may be found at 35 Stat. 1075. The Act as amended may be found in Title 17 of the various editions of the United States Code published before 1982.
The Copyright Act of 1976 is found at passed at PL 94-553, 90 Stat. 2541 and as amended in Title 17 of the USC.
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Michael A. Epstein, Epstein on Intellectual Property (5th ed. 2005-date) KF 2976.5 E67
Roger E. Schechter & John R. Thomas, Intellectual Property: The Law of Copyrights, Patents and Trademarks (2003) - KF2980 .S3 2003