The Statute of Anne, widely considered the world’s first copyright statute and the precursor to modern copyright law, went into effect on April 10, 1710, thus making this year (2010) the “tricentennial of copyright law.”

The Statute of Anne was formally entitled “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of Such Copies, During the Times therein Mentioned” and was enacted in the United Kingdom during the reign of its namesake, Queen Anne.

As its title suggests, the Statute of Anne was directed to literary works, primarily books. Over the past three hundred years, however, copyright law has continuously evolved and expanded to cover a variety of different types of works. Indeed, the ever widening scope of eligible works under modern copyright law (both in the U.S. and abroad) includes not only books and other types of writings, but also paintings, architectural works, sculptures, jewelry, photographs, music, choreography, sound recordings, movies, holograms, computer software, and many others.

By way of comparison, the Statue of Anne would today comprise only a few pages of modern text, whereas the U.S. Copyright Law, Title 17 of the United States Code, comprises approximately 1.6 Megabytes of text in PDF format, which corresponds to several hundred pages of text.  

Thanks in part to the Statute of Anne, copyright law has evolved to become one of the most established forms of intellectual property law, worldwide. In fact, there are now several international treaties and conventions specifically directed to copyrights. If the past is any indication, the next 300 years of copyright law will likely see further expansion in the types of works eligible for copyright protection, as well as increased global harmonization in the scope of protection.