The first copy right, passed by the UK, was less of an intellectual property protection than an effort to suppress unfavorable opinion. A government-controlled printing company was given the exclusive right to print all publications, thus allowing the Crown to control the content of those books. In the United States, the newly-written Constitution addressed copy right in Article 1, Section 8 stating “Congress shall have the power to protect,” which some took to mean they must appeal to Congress directly to gain protection for their work. Congress was flooded with private requests for copy right almost immediately after the passage of the Constitution.
On this day, June 9, just over a week after President George Washington signed the Copyright Act of 1790, The Philadelphia Spelling Book, Arranged Upon a Plan Entirely New by John Barry entered the records as the first book granted copy protection.
President Washington added his own preamble to the 1790 bill just before signing it into law, calling it “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Securing the Copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of Such Copies, during the Times Therein Mentioned.” Individuals were given 14 years of exclusive rights to publish and profit off their creation, renewable once for another 14.