Authorship and the discourse of literary property

Negotiating copyright: Authorship and the discourse of literary property rights in nineteenth-century America (James Fenimore Cooper, Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson).

Buinicki, Martin Thomson, Jr.
Thesis (Ph.D.)–The University of Iowa, 2003.
online access from Digital Dissertation Consortium

“Negotiating Copyright: Authorship and the Discourse of Literary Property Rights in Nineteenth-Century America” examines how debates over copyright law in the United States during the nineteenth century, particularly over the lack of an international copyright law, intersected with the business practices and political and artistic beliefs of American authors. These debates shaped a discourse of literary property rights that forced authors to negotiate their copyrights not only with their publishers, but with their readers as well. Employing the overlapping issues and terms discussed in newspaper editorials, legislative sessions, and the public and private writing of James Fenimore Cooper, Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Samuel Clemens, and Emily Dickinson, this dissertation demonstrates how authors found themselves in an uneasy opposition to their reading public. Authors were forced to stake their claim to their rights as property holders while at the same time fending off criticism that literary works should be easily and cheaply available within the rapidly expanding American literary marketplace. As a result, the act of taking out a copyright was more than a mere legal mechanism marking a transition from amateur to professional or artist to businessperson. Taking out a copyright had a profound impact on how audiences viewed authors, how authors perceived their profession, and how they represented individual rights and property ownership within their texts.