The gradual development of national copyright laws during the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in quite different and culture-specific understandings of the nature and scope of protection provided for literary and artistic works. The lack of international standards of regulation meant that literary works could be freely reprinted, translated, and appropriated abroad. As a result of the increasing internationalization of literature, bestselling authors of the 19th century began to call for a universal copyright. Their activism proved an important catalyst of the first international copyright treaty, the Berne Convention, signed in 1886 by ten nations. The Berne Convention has since been revised many times and is currently ratified by over 170 signatories. In its current form, it grants relatively strong rights to authors who produce works that can be categorized as “originals.” It determines the minimum standards of protection which bind the national legislation of its member states, for instance by setting the minimum length of copyright protection at fifty years from the death of the author. The development of international copyright agreements since the latter half of the 20th century has resulted in a network of mutually reinforcing treaties and an increased awareness and control of copyrights on a global scale. At the same time, such treaties and the national laws they govern can offer only partial solutions to the multiple conflicts of interest relating to the uses of literary works beyond their countries of origin. The main concerns of the 19th-century authors who lobbied for universal copyright are still relevant today, albeit in somewhat different forms. With the advances of technology that allow for effortless storing and distribution of works in digital form, and given the economic gap between content-producing industrialized countries and the less-developed countries that use that content, book piracy still exists and is often a symptom of a dysfunctional or exclusive local market environment. In addition to the abolition of piracy, another core concern for the Berne Convention was the regulation of translation rights. The treaty divides the copyright in translated works between authors of originals and translators, which challenges the notion of originality as the criterion for protection since translations are by necessity derivative. The division of authors into two groups meriting different types of protection is further complicated by the rise of the so-called “born-translated literature” which effectively blurs the distinction between originals and translations. The international framework of copyright has harmonized many aspects of copyright, yet left others unregulated: appropriations, such as parody, have proven problematic in an international setting due to differences in how national laws justify the existence of derivative and transformative works. International copyright thus remains an oxymoron: it is promulgated in and through national laws, and the disputes are settled in national courts although literature, especially translated literature, has multiple countries of origin and is increasingly distributed by international booksellers to a potentially global audience.
The modern concept of authorship evolved in parallel with the legal recognition of the author as the subject of certain property rights within the marketplace for books. Such a market was initially regulated by a system of printing privileges, which was replaced by copyright laws at the juncture of the 18th and 19th centuries. The inclusion of copyright under the umbrella of property and the dominating economic discourse marked the naissance of a new figure of the author, namely, the author as supplier of intellectual labor to the benefit of society at large. In this sense, products of authorship became fully fledged commodities to be exchanged in the global marketplace. Focusing on the transition between the privilege and the copyright systems, and the prevailing economic rationale for the protection of works of authorship, leads to a more original understanding of authorship as rooted in the human need for reciprocal communication for the sake of truth. Modern authorship, being grounded in a narrow utilitarian understanding of authors’ rights, is detached from both the economic logic of the privilege system and the rational foundation of copyright.
Clint J. Terrell
Jimmy Santiago Baca is a poet, memoirist, novelist, essayist, filmmaker, and activist who began his literary career in Florence State Prison, Arizona, where he was incarcerated from 1974 to 1979. Baca spent most of his adolescent years between orphanages, stints of homelessness, and time in juvenile detention facilities. He credits learning to read and write in prison as the galvanization of his journey from illiteracy to worldly poet, and his endorsement of literacy as an avenue for individual and community empowerment echoes the black nationalist political thought of Malcolm X. In addition to an overarching theme of literacy, he also maintains a critical awareness to the politics of land ownership. He is of Chicano and Apache descent and often draws on his Indigenous heritage, as well as his prison experience, to critique the colonial settler ideology that associates private property with personal liberty. He is among the gallery of canonized Chicano pinto (prisoner) poets like Ricardo Sánchez and Raúl Salinas who discovered their talents while incarcerated. His poetry and prose are in harmony with prisoner discourse that indicts the state for economic injustices and contextualizes crimes as economic necessity instead of demonizing the individual. Similar to Sánchez and Salinas, Baca’s poetic voice can be both figural and visceral in the same breath. But distinct from these pinto poets, Baca’s poetic introduces a proliferation of personas that go back and forth between a poet who wants to love and make peace and a pugnacious identity that was nurtured by the violence of life in various state institutions, particularly prison. He has published eighteen books that include poetry, memoir, fiction, creative non-fiction, essay collections, and chapbooks. He is an active writer and frequently has additional publications in various stages of production, showing us that the negotiation of his traumatic past is never fully complete. Indeed, he continues to push his boundaries as a writer and challenges any preconceived notions about the literary limits of a prison cultivated intellectual.