The Copyright Alliance That Shaped Our Constitution

Congress is considering reforms to our copyright laws, including some that involve compensation for copyrighted music.

As lawmakers contemplate reforms, it should recall the little known copyright alliance that shaped the Constitution’s Intellectual Property Clause. The alliance between Noah Webster—”The Father of Copyright”—and James Madison—”The Father of the Constitution”—sheds light on the constitutional foundations of copyright. These foundations should never be forgotten, even as Congress confronts novel issues arising from the digital revolution. This is especially so because the American economy loses about $300 billion every year to online theft of intellectual property, including far too much piracy of music.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 8—the Intellectual Property Clause—grants Congress the power “to promote the Progress of Science and Useful arts, by securing, for limited Times, to Authors and Inventors, the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The clause’s inclusion in the Constitution was the culmination of a several-year advocacy effort by Webster and Madison.

“The Father of Copyright” and “The Father of the Constitution” viewed copyright as literary property arising from the fruits of a person’s labor and deserving protection. The Constitution’s IP Clause reflects the force of Webster and Madison’s reasoning. As Congress considers copyright law revisions, including provisions relating to compensation for music, it must remember why our Founders included protection of intellectual property in the Constitution.

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