Why Were There No Copyright Laws in the Roman Empire?

A guest blog by Valeriya Leonteva 

The Roman Empire is famed for classics which are still central to our society: The Odyssey, the Aeneid, Metamorphoses, and so many others. Many of these works were produced during a period of time that has been called the Golden Age of Latin literature. This ‘Golden Age’ was between 81 BC and AD 17. It is interesting that despite the success of these authors, there had not been an attempt to introduce some form of payment for the copying of their texts. A case by Mary Beard made in the NY Times even suggests that copyright laws were crucial to the prosperity of authors, without which they failed to profit from their own works. This seems difficult to believe given the high status of some classical writers today.

How did the book industry work in the Roman Empire?

The Roman Empire had a prosperous book trade.  The first Roman publishers emerged during the first century BC. These were not publishers in the modern sense but those people who organised teams of slaves to copy books on their behalf. Book merchants paid slaves to copy out manuscripts which were sold in shops. Due to the lack of copyright law, book merchants did not have to pay to copy out texts. However, copying by those other than professional booksellers was rare.

Was there a need for copyright law?

Some Romans were avid readers: by the 4th century AD, Rome had 28 large libraries where citizens could go and read books free of charge. One of the main streets leading up to the Roman Forum was called the argiletum (according to some accounts, the name was derived from the name of a Greek scoundrel) and was comprised of many bookshops. These suggest a demand for books in large quantities, and certainly some would have had to be copied several times in order to fill the shelves of these libraries and bookshops. Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis, Roman poet) complains about this very issue:

“My book is thumbed by our soldiers posted overseas, and even in Britain people quote my words. What’s the point? I don’t make a penny from it.”

Why were copyright laws not established?

Unfortunately for the authors themselves, producing copies of their works was an expensive practice. Copying texts was so expensive that an added cost would have discouraged the practice. This is because a team of highly skilled, literate slaves was needed. These were not conventional slaves – they fulfilled job roles which are regarded highly in our own society, such as accountants or physicians. Of course, there were also slaves who fulfilled manual tasks, and life for them was painfully difficult. However, maintaining skilled slaves could be expensive because they were allowed to earn their own money, as well as needing food and shelter. According to Albrecht Dihle, a highly regarded German historian of the antiquity, many literate slaves who were freed went on to write their own histories, such as Phlegon of Tralles and Trogus Pompeius. It was rare for a slave to be freed because it was typically done when they were able to earn enough money to buy their freedom, and unlike the period prior to the American Civil War which saw some slaves buying freedom, this was restricted to skilled slaves.

Therefore, anyone copying books would have had to pay much the same expense as a professional publisher today. Roman book sellers would sometimes pay a well-regarded author for first access to a text, but they had no exclusive rights to a work and authors were not normally paid anything for their work, no matter how widely it was circulated.

Additionally, there was another reason which may have deterred the development of copyright law: the existence of the servus publicus. This literally translates to ‘public slave’, and these slaves worked in magistrates’ offices, pontifical offices and temples. Those slaves working in temples would have had to copy scripts and texts by famous authors, especially if they were working in the public libraries discussed earlier. This means that the state would have had a reason to deter the development of copyright laws, in order to avoid paying authors.

It wasn’t all bad

Despite the lack of money, authors did have a lot of prestige. They often gained fame from winning prizes and participating in public events. Moreover, it was possible for authors to acquire patrons, who paid them to produce works. Patronage was widespread across many periods of history, particularly in the middle ages and the Renaissance. The idea was that wealthy kings, noblemen, clergy (or anyone lucky enough to possess significant wealth) would pay an artist, musician or writer to produce works which would reflect well on them by promoting their family, establishment or name. Famous patrons from other periods of history included Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and the Medici family. Their fame and prestige meant that many Roman authors profited from their works in other ways.

Find out more about copyright law today here: https://www.ark-group.com/event/legal-libraries-2017#.WXm9UITyvIU


(c) Valeriya Leonteva, 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Ethel: First World War Heroine – Copyright Lessons for the 21st Century

Ethel Bilborough was a journalist and an artist, who wrote a personal diary during the outbreak of the First World War. Her diary, which was handwritten, is owned by the Imperial War Museums in London (IWM). More about Ethel can be found here: http://www.chislehurst-society.org.uk/Pages/About/People/BilbroughEthel.html

Photo 15-11-2016, 15 32 32

This is primarily the copyright story of how Ethel’s diary became a hard-back book published by Ebury Press in association with IWM and currently available from Amazon. Whilst there is seemingly a massive difference between the rights issues associated with a diary written over a 100 years ago and the digital age of today, the parallels are striking.

Ethel’s diary includes a number of her sketches. She also used the diary as a scrapbook and cut things out and pasted them in, including an envelope which had been opened by the official wartime censor, newspaper cuttings, stamps etc.

The original diary had been gifted to the Imperial War Museums some years ago, but at the time of acquisition into IWM’s collections, neither a copyright transfer (assignment) nor a licence had been sought. Ethel died in the 1950’s. Because her diary was not published in her lifetime, the duration of copyright under UK copyright law lasts until the end of the year 2039!

IWM’s contractual obligations to  Ebury Press, copyright compliance and ethical drivers were clear – copyright permission had to be sought!

Ethel did not have a digital footprint, so IWM got hold of both her will and that of her husband – Kenneth Bilborough. Ethel died before Kenneth and he married his secretary Elsie. Elsie did not leave a will but had a living relative. The journey was fascinating – the copyright in Ethel’s will was owned by Ethel’s first husband’s second wife’s niece. IWM secured a transfer of copyright from the niece, but that was not the end of the story.

The next issue IWM faced when reproducing Ethel’s diary was how to deal with all of the additional material she stuck into her diary from outside sources. Therefore to reproduce the diary IWM spent a large amount of time to research all the different items within the diary, find out who produced them and ask their permission to use them. Using Image Recognition Software such as Tin Eye, Foto Forensics and Google Image Search, IWM managed to identify the sources of the commercially licensing content and requested the necessary permissions.

Far from being irrelevant, the copyright story of Ethel Bilborough’s diary presents some fascinating insights into contemporary copyright issues associated with the digital age:

  1. The way in which Ethel cut and pasted materials created by other people into her diary, is just like the copying/cutting and pasting of digital content into digital resources. The resulting copyright issues associated with these layers of rights in which rights will be owned by other people, will be  identical.
  2. Time and resources are needed to identify, research and clear these rights.
  3. Copyright is a business critical issue: its about weighing up the costs, versus the benefits, versus the risks.
  4. This story illustrates the need to consider copyright at the point of acquisition/commissioning of any type of content, whether print or digital. Without clear agreements in writing, digital content, or a work, might be acquired or commissioned, but it cannot be used. This will represent inefficiencies in rights clearance and can impact on profit margin for commercial products if rights are not dealt with at the right time.
  5. It is very important that copyright and licensing commitments in any contracts with third parties, such as funding bodies are identified and acted upon. For example, Funders may well expect you to have the permissions for you and probably them to publish digital content, and possibly under certain specific licensing conditions (such as Creative Commons). 
  6. Ethel’s story is exceptional, the underlying copyright story is fascinating.

©Naomi Korn, 2016 @ 2017. Some Rights Reserved. This article may be reused and shared under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike Licence

Researching Rights for Moving Images

By Corinna Reicher,Fim & Rights Researcher, NKCC

Clearing Rights & Films: Bringing Out the Inner Sherlock

Clearing rights is a process that many find daunting. Knowing where to start can be overwhelming, and research usually turns out to be anything but straightforward. Yet, it is exactly this uncertainty that is also the most fun and rewarding: Solving a mystery offers a sense of achievement. And who doesn’t want to channel their inner Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple by successfully using the art of deduction? Logic and lateral thinking usually help, but luck and serendipity equally play a part. There is a huge danger of getting side-tracked, of following red herrings and suspecting the wrong character, but that in itself can be fascinating.  Just don’t forget to invite all suspects into the same room at the end to sum up and reveal your results!

Where to Start?

When researching rights holders for moving images, the ideal scenario is to have a copyright notice as part of the end credits. To keep things interesting, however, the details found on archive footage more often than not relate to a defunct company – but even outdated information is a solid starting point. Simple searches with a search engine may throw up useful results and additional pieces in the puzzle. Names of company directors or artistic personnel are useful leads. There are several national and regional public film archives in the UK with excellent online catalogues, as well as commercial footage libraries which also have easily accessible databases.

Orphans & Layers of Rights

Most difficult to research are works where the rights holder or indeed origin of the film are unknown or difficult to ascertain. In those cases, the method of finding out more about the item itself by forensically scrutinising the content of the footage is essential. Films do inherently offer a wealth of information, even if there is no metadata. There are also several layers of rights ownership, for instance rights in stills or music used, or performance rights, which need to be taken into account and which make the research an even more complex process.

Wealth of Experience and Expertise

Before joining the NKCC team earlier this year, I had been working in the film heritage sector for many years. One of my roles was to oversee the Imperial War Museum’s film licensing operations, so I have had first-hand experience at issuing licences and negotiating licencing agreements for material owned by the museum. As a film historian with a background in moving image archiving, I have substantial experience in researching and interpreting archive footage. Being able to read a film is crucial for establishing details such as the date and origin of a film – is it a newsreel, a TV interview or an amateur film, for instance. This is the type of information that helps to identify potential owners of a physical copy of a film as well as its rights holders. This also applies to the digital realm: it is important to find out who the owner of the source material is. To distinguish between the physical material, the copy of a film, and the inherent intellectual property rights, is crucial as they might be owned by different organisations or persons. Archives do not necessarily own the copyright to the material they are preserving.

These are just some of the aspects important to bear in mind when embarking on a project. At NKCC, we offer expert advice and carry out all research, due diligence and negotiations necessary to clear rights and obtain licence agreements on behalf of our clients.

NKCC is delighted that that this blog has been listed as one of the global Top 50 Copyright Blogs http://blog.feedspot.com/copyright_blogs/

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Content Clear and NKCC – Perfect Harmony!

NKCC is proud to be working together with Content Clear to extend our portfolio of services to Data Protection.

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 08.18.21

Licensed for reuse under the terms of the UK’s Open Government Licence

One reason for working together are the big changes that the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will have next year on all businesses and organisations that collect or hold information about living people. This is important because not a day goes by now without some news story about people’s personal information being shared inadvertently, or a cyber attack meaning your personal records may have been compromised.

Who is Content Clear?

Content Clear is a specialist provider of practical training, consultancy and services focusing on data protection law. Based on many years of teaching and training experience it aims to help all types of organisations understand the basics of data protection. All trainers are qualified Data Protection Practitioners (formerly known as ISEB) certified by the British Computer Society, and have over a decade of experience working in the field of compliance, report writing and training. In addition to this we have project management experience and are PRINCE2 qualified.

Where does data protection law have its origin?

It’s roots originated in Article 12 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

This, combined decades later with the growth in use of computers, and the threat to personal privacy that rapid manipulation of data poses, saw the Council of Europe Convention (1981) and the first UK data protection act in 1984. The UK is currently regulated by the 1998 Data Protection Act, and from May 2018 the new General Data Protection Regulation will come into force across all of the European Union, including the UK. Maximum fines for breaches will increase a staggering 3500% to approximately £18 million or 4% of annual global turnover, whichever the larger.

What does data protection law cover?

In the way that copyright law covers, all forms of creative expression, data protection covers all uses of personal information that relate to an identifiable living person – including opinions about them.

Isn’t that a huge scope?

Yes it is. Data protection and use of personal data covers any instance where information relating to an identifiable living person is used. It therefore covers many things from marketing, journalism, big data, health research and use of records through to crime prevention, education, human resources and increasingly digitization of 20th century materials by archives, libraries and universities.

What services does Content Clear and NKCC offer?

We work with you to create bespoke, PowerPoint free, interactive and easy to understand learning packages designed with your particular organisation’s needs in mind. Balancing legal theory, with real-life examples and discussions, we make the very complex and constantly evolving field of data protection law understandable to all, including those without any prior experience of it.

We know we have to be ready by 2018 for the implementation of the new Data Protection Regulation but staff know very little about data protection.

We can help in many different ways.  We can run training so newcomers can understand the basics of the law and are then able to identify hot spot data protection areas to look out for. We have a reputation for providing accessible teaching in topics like copyright and data protection which can be very complicated. Our workshops are dynamic and interactive and our trainers are empathetic so that the course resonates even with people who know nothing about data protection. We can carry out compliance audits, and recommend how to build in data protection compliant workflows that will help your organisation comply with the law. This is required by the new data protection regulation and is known as “privacy by design.”

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Meet the NKCC Team: Amalyah Keshet


Amalyah joins NKCC burdened and blessed with over 35 years’ experience working with museums, copyright, and digital media in cultural heritage institutions. Following a decade in curatorial work at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, she developed and led the Image Resources & Copyright Management there for the last 25 years. And that’s how she met Naomi Korn.

Once Naomi’s “boss” and mentor, Amalyah is particularly happy to join Naomi’s marvelously successful consultancy in a delightful reversal of roles.  Now retired from the Israel Museum, but as busy as ever, Amalyah hopes to continue advising the perplexed on critical rights and policies issues, image licensing, film production in museums, archiving and digitizing projects, and anything else that the cultural heritage world throws our way.

Amalyah has been active in the field internationally since before the invention of the Internet! …serving on the Board of Directors of the Museum Computer Network (MCN), and founding its Intellectual Property Special Interest Group.  She has been active in the Israel working committee for Europeana, in the founding of Creative Commons Israel, and serves on the Editorial Board of Visual Resources.  Amalyah holds a degree in Fine Arts from B.F.A. from Washington University., St. Louis, and a M.A. in Art History from George Washington University, Washington DC.  Amalyah is currently involved in advocating for legislation on exceptions and limitations to copyright for museums, both in Israel and via the World Intellectual Property Organization, and in advocacy for Fair Use and user rights internationally.

Meet The Team: Prof Charles Oppenheim

This is the first of a series of blog posts written by NKCC Consultants. Its a pleasure to introduce Professor Charles Oppenheim, Senior Consultant at NKCC.


“I was until 2009 Professor of Information Science and Head of the Department of Information Science at Loughborough University. I am currently a Visiting Professor at three UK Universities. I have not just been an academic though. I have been an information scientist in the pharmaceutical industry, and spent 12 years in the information industry, working for database producers and online hosts. I first got involved with intellectual property rights in my first job, as a patents information officer at Glaxo in 1970. It was there that I learned about both patents and trade marks. My involvement with copyright came somewhat later, in 1984, when I became Product Development Manager for an online host called Pergamon Infoline, long since vanished. It was here that I learned about copyright law and about negotiating licences, as my main responsibility was to negotiate such licences. I quickly realised that knowledge about all these topics amongst library and information personnel wasn’t that great. I published my first article about patent information in 1974, about trade mark searching in 1987, and on copyright and its impact on library work in 1989. I gave my first of many conference talks on these topics in 1977, and have been a regular on the library and information conference circuit ever since.

I have therefore been involved in, given talks on, and published on Intellectual Property Rights and other legal issues relevant to library and information work and to academic research for nearly 45 years. In that time I have published well over 500 journal articles, conference papers, reports and books on these topics.

I have been involved in advising Governments on these topics in various ways over the years. For many years I was a member of the Legal Advisory Board, a body that gave advice to the European Commission on copyright matters. I have been a member of the Library and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA) since 2000. I have also been heavily involved in professional matters, becoming President of, and then an Honorary Fellow of, the Institute of Information Scientists, and subsequently became an Honorary Fellow of CILIP. I have been involved in numerous other professional associations, and have been on the organising committees of dozens of conferences.

I was first asked to do consultancy in these fields in the 1970s. However, I didn’t get into such consultancy in a significant way until I arrived at Strathclyde University in 1992 as a Professor there. Since then I have undertaken consultancy for individuals (especially authors), small businesses, commercial organisations, database producers, academic institutions, libraries, information brokers, Government Departments, health service providers, funding councils, libraries, museums and archives, scholarly societies, professional associations – and am involved in developing Green Party policy on Intellectual Property Rights. My proudest professional moments have, however, been my involvement in the Infotainers, a team of information scientists who performed Monty Python type shows for professional conferences between 1980 and 1990.”

Reflections from Chairing CILIP Copyright Conference

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of both setting the programme and chairing the CILIP Copyright Conference for another year.

C80adorXsAIMUNI.jpg large(c) Fred Saunderson, via twitter

What an amazing day. Fantastic speakers and great audience engagement. We tweeted so much good stuff that we constantly trended on Twitter! There was loads to take on from our great speakers and of course our wonderful keynote, Julia Reda MEP

Presentations will be available, but in the meantime, I wanted to briefly outline my top ten key themes that emerged from the day:

1. There is an inevitable relationship between rights management and risk management.  The sooner we understand that, the more we can embed risk management and risk mitigation into our organisational policies and procedures.

2. Copyright can be hard, we have to deal with that and therefore work *hard* to ensure we put in place suitable structures and resource to deal with it.

3. Copyright is an important strategic issue, requires senior management support and suitable policies, procedures, tools and systems to manage it.

4. The devil is often in the detail of the legislation but we should not let this stop us from optimising our use of the exceptions to copyright.

5. Process and methodology are important for dealing with rights and for dealing with works where we can’t trace the rights holders (orphan works).  These need to be built into organisational frameworks and project management.

6. Copyright literacy means contract literacy and we need to be versed in understanding what we want, what contracts mean (Creative Commons licences included!) and how to negotiate (where appropriate).

7. How can we make our staff to feel safe to make proportionate and appropriate decisions about copyright and risk? The crucial role of training, staff development, and awareness raising.

8. European copyright reform is essential regardless of Brexit,  and even after Brexit whilst there will inevitably be copyright casualties, some possible hope may rise from the embers.

9. Copyright champions like us are fighting for appropriate and fair copyright laws, but ultimately we are championing social justice safeguarding the rights of everyone, including those most vulnerable, to access and use content.

10. Professor Charles Oppenheim is too good at what he does, and can never retire!

Thanks to everyone for such a great day. A particular thanks to CILIP and its staff for all their amazing work. Also, thanks to CILIP for asking me to set the programme and select the speakers, as well as for the amazing honour of Chairing the CILIP Copyright Conference for another year.

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