Document Type


Publication Date



For all of the rhetoric about the central place of authors in the copyright scheme, our copyright laws in fact give them little power and less money. Intermediaries own the copyrights, and are able to structure licenses so as to maximise their own revenue while shrinking their pay-outs to authors. Copyright scholars have tended to treat this point superficially, because – as lawyers – we take for granted that copyrights are property; property rights are freely alienable; and the grantee of a property right stands in the shoes of the original holder. I compare the 1710 Statute of Anne, which created statutory copyrights and consolidated them in the hands of publishers and printers, with the 1887 Dawes Act, which served a crucial function in the American divestment of Indian land. I draw from the stories of the two laws the same moral: Constituting something as a freely alienable property right will almost always lead to results mirroring or exacerbating disparities in wealth and bargaining power. The legal dogma surrounding property rights makes it easy for us not to notice.


This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. doi:10.1017/S0008197318000600

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.