America’s First Copyright Law – 1790
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.