The Constitution gives Congress the power to grant patents for a specific purpose: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” The idea was that the new American republic needed to codify intellectual property rights in order to encourage clever thinkers to settle down and crank out the kind of practical inventions that would help build a thriving new country.
But today, the free culture movement argues that overly restrictive copyright laws actually stifle creativity. So what is the proper balance between protecting rights and allowing information to flow freely? What should ‘intellectual property’ mean, and what has it meant to past generations of Americans?
On this episode, the American History Guys at BackStory Radio trace the twists and turns of intellectual property rights over time. They take a look at music piracy from the 19th century — sheet music piracy, that is— and explore the revolutionary-era debate over whether patents were an American right, or a symbol of tyranny. And they will look at a time before the idea of plagiarism existed, when everything in print was fair game for content-hungry publishers.