Wheaton v. Peters, Washington D.C. (1834)

Source: The University of Texas Tarlton Law Library Stack 215: Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. 591 (1834).

Wheaton v. Peters, Washington D.C. (1834), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org

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Record-ID: us_1834

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Full title:
Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. 591 (1834)

Full title original language:

The first copyright decision of the U.S. Supreme Court and a landmark case in the field. While the case is best known for its rejection of common law copyright in the United States, its significance is also attributable to other factors. The commentary briefly discusses five significant aspects of the litigation and of the Supreme Court's decision. First, the case established the principle that there existed no post-publication common law copyright in the United States, and that post-publication protection could only be attained within the statutory framework. Second, the case reopened the theoretical debate over literary property more than fifty years after it was officially settled in Britain. The parties' arguments, the Justices' opinions and the public debate surrounding the case contained competing constructions of copyright as a limited state-granted entitlement or as a pre-political natural property right. While rehearsing the British literary property debate, the American version took place in a somewhat different ideological, economic and political context and thus produced new variants of the conceptual structure underlying copyright thought. Third, the factual background of the case--revolving around a dispute between two reporters of the Supreme Court over a condensed version of the Court's reports--involved the question of the propriety and extent of copyright protection in official state-related materials such as laws and case-law reports. The discussion surrounding the case laid the foundations for future law and thought about this topic. Fourth the dispute and the actions of the parties illuminates the changing status and character of the Supreme Court reporter during the early nineteenth century. Finally, the litigation exposed an intriguing and complex array of personal relationships between the various protagonists involved, including judges, litigants and lawyers.

Commentary: No commentaries for this record.

  • McGill, Meredith L. 'The Matter of the Text: Commerce, Print Culture, and the Authority of the State in American Copyright Law.' 9 American Literary History 1, (1997).

  • ____. ''A Curious Chapter in the History of Judicature': Wheaton v. Peters and the Rest of the Story (of Copyright in the New Republic).' 42 Hous. L. Rev. 325 (2005).

  • Joyce, Craig. 'The Story of Wheaton v. Peters, in Intellectual Property Stories.' In Jane C. Ginsburg and Rochelle Cooper Dreyfuss eds. New York: Foundation Press, 2006.

  • Abrams Howard B. 'The Historic Foundation of American Copyright Law: Exploding the Myth of Common Law Copyright.' 29 Wayne L. Rev. 1119 (1983).

Related documents in this database:
1769: Millar v. Taylor
1774: Donaldson v. Becket
1788: The Federalist No. 43
1828: Letter from Donaldson to Peters
1828: Letter from Donaldson to Wheaton
1828: Letter from Peters to Donaldson
1830: Letter from John McLean to Richard Peters Jr.
1834: Wheaton v. Peters Independent Report
1834: Letters from Sumner to Story

Author: N/A

Publisher: N/A

Year: 1834

Location: Washington D.C.

Language: English

Source: The University of Texas Tarlton Law Library Stack 215: Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. 591 (1834).

Persons referred to:
Arden, Sir Richard, 1st Baron Alvanley
Aston, Richard
Baldwin, Henry
Blackstone, William
Brent, Daniel Carroll
Burrow, Sir James
Camden, Charles Pratt, 1st Earl
Carey, Henry Charles
Carey, Matthew
Charles II
Chase, Samuel
Christian, Edward
Cranch, William
Dalison, William
Donaldson, Robert
Duponceau, Peter Stephen
Eldon, John Scott, 1st Earl of
Ellenborough, Edward Law, 1st Baron
Erskine, Thomas, 1st Baron
Godson, Richard
Grigg, John
Grose, Nash
Hale, Sir Matthew
Hobart, Sir Henry
Hopkinson, Joseph
Ingersoll, Joseph Reed
Kent, James
Lea, Isaac
Madison, James
Mansfield, William Murray, 1st Earl
Marshall, John
Maugham, Robert
McKean, Thomas
McLean, John
Paine, Elijah
Penn, William
Peters, Richard, Jr.
Plowden, Edmund
Sergeant, Thomas
Story, Joseph
Thompson, Smith
Vattel, Emerich de
Washington, Bushrod
Webster, Daniel
Webster, Noah
Wheaton, Henry
Willes, Edward
Yates, Joseph
Yorke, Philip, 1st Earl of Hardwicke

Places referred to:
New York

Cases referred to:
Beckford v. Hood (1798) 7 D. & E. 620
Bell v. Walker and Debrett (1785) 1 Bro.C.C. 451
Blackwell v. Harper (1740) 2 Atk. 93
Cary v. Kearsley (1804) 4 Esp. 168
Donaldson v. Becket (1774) 4 Burr. 2408, 2 Bro. P.C. 129
Ewer v. Coxe (1824), 4 Wash. C. C. Rep. 490
Gurney v. Longman, 13 Ves. 493
Harrison v. Hogg (1794) 2 Ves. Jun. 323
Millar v. Taylor (1769) 4 Burr. 2303
Newton v. Cowie (1822) 4 Bing 234
Nichols v. Ruggles (1808), 3 Day 145
Pennock & Sellers v. Dialgoue (1829), 27 U. S. 1
Percival v. Phipps (1813), 2 Ves. & Beam. 19
Pope v. Curl (1741) 2 Atk. 342
Roper v. Streater (1672) Bac. Abr. 6th ed., Vol.IV, 209
Stationers' Company v. Parker (1686), King's Bench
Stationers' Company v. Seymour (1677) 1 Mod. 256
Tonson v. Collins (1762) 1 Black W 321, 1 Black W 329
Tonson v. Walker (1752) NA, c.11 1106/18, 3 Swans 672
Wheaton v. Peters (1834) 33 U.S. 591

Institutions referred to:
Court of Chancery, England
House of Lords
Matthew Carey & Sons, Philadelphia (publishing firm)
Star Chamber
Stationers' Hall
U.S. Congress
U.S. Supreme Court
University of Oxford

Connecticut Copyright Statute 1783
Copyright Act, 1814, 54 Geo.III, c.156
Licensing Act, 1662, 13 & 14 Car.II, c.33
Maryland Literary Property Statute 1783
Massachusetts Copyright Statute 1783
New Hampshire Copyright Statute 1783
New Jersey Copyright Statute 1783
New York Copyright Statute 1786
North Carolina Literary Property Statute 1785
Star Chamber Decree 1566
Statute of Anne, 1710, 8 Anne, c.19
U.S. Constitutional Copyright Clause 1789
U.S. Copyright Act 1790, 1 Stat. 124 (1790)
U.S. Copyright Act 1802 (Amendment of 1790 Act), 2 Stat. 171 (1802)
U.S. Copyright Act 1831, 21st Cong., 2d Sess., 4 Stat. 436
Virginia Copyright Statute 1785

common law copyright
constitution, US
excluded subject matter
law books
natural rights
perpetual protection
property analogies
property theory
property theory, authors' property

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