Burrow-Giles v. Sarony (US 1884): Copyright Protection for Photographs, and Concepts of Authorship in an Age of Machines
Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony produced one of the Supreme Court’s first interpretations of the term “writings” of “authors” in the Constitution’s “copyright clause.” But Burrow-Giles also stands out in U.S. copyright jurisprudence for its analysis of the impact of new technological modes of creation on the concept of authorship.
Part I of this book explores the doctrine and debates over the copyright status of photographs before and immediately after the 1865 amendment in which Congress explicitly added photographs to the statutory subject matter of copyright. Part II assembles primary sources to lay out the story of the litigation over Sarony’s Oscar Wilde photograph, from Sarony’s initial complaint through the Supreme Court’s decision, including a postscript on the fate of Sarony’s photographic studio. Part III documents legislative and caselaw developments after Burrow-Giles, examining pre-1909 Act cases and subsequent legislative developments, the surprisingly sparse caselaw under the 1909 Act, and subsequent caselaw under the 1976 Act to the present. Notes and questions accompany each section, making the text idea as an elective or a supplement to any course in Intellectual Property or Copyright Law.
Twenty-first–century observers must determine whether that role is now receding in the face of digital methods of content-generation in which perhaps no human being, whether alone or in collaboration, conceives a vision for any particular work and controls its specific execution.
Intellectual Property Law | Law
Twelve Tables Press
“In this deeply considered study of the origins and aftershocks of the US Supreme Court’s landmark Burrow-Giles v. Sarony decision one of the world’s leading copyright scholars deftly probes the tensions between authorship and its mechanical implements in terms that reach from the 19th century invention of photography to the 21st century’s experiments with artificial intelligence. A must-read not only for anyone interested in the copyright history of photography, but anyone interested in the drama of authorship in a mechanized world.”
—Paul Goldstein, Lillick Professor of Law, Stanford Law School
Ginsburg, Jane C., "Burrow-Giles v. Sarony (US 1884): Copyright Protection for Photographs, and Concepts of Authorship in an Age of Machines" (2020). Faculty Books. 297.