What is the Copyright Clause?

Jessica Reed

The Copyright Clause is the common name for Clause 8 in Section 8 found in Article 1 of the United States Constitution. The Copyright Clause states that Congress has the power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." This clause gives those who discover or create something the legal rights to their creation or discovery for a limited amount of time. The Copyright Clause is also known as the Copyright and Patent Clause, the Patent and Copyright Clause, the Intellectual Property Clause, and the Progress Clause.

The Copyright Clause was included in the U.S. Constitution to promote the arts and sciences.
The Copyright Clause was included in the U.S. Constitution to promote the arts and sciences.

When the Constitution was drafted in 1787, the creators felt they should encourage the people to keep advancing scientific and artistic discovery by giving them certain rights over their creations. This would benefit both the individual by giving them proper credit and compensation for their discovery and would help society by allowing artists and inventors to make new advancements in their fields. The Copyright Clause was listed under Article 1 because this article deals with powers of the legislative branch and was put under Section 8 because it deals with the powers of Congress. In the United States, Congress has the power to take action on matters dealing with copyright law.

Originally, the clause referred to "useful Arts" as those who were skilled in a trade and could create useful items and objects. Science covered not only the traditional scientists of the day but also philosophers and other professions that dealt with intellectual thought and knowledge. Today, the clause covers those who create items whether in research or in an artistic form such as writing a song.

Copyrights and patents are given to those who create or invent an item and this tells the person under what terms he or she owns the item and for how long. A songwriter, for example, owns the copyright to his song, and if anyone uses the lyrics or melody of that song without permission, he or she is breaking the law. Interpretation of the Copyright Clause has varied over the years. While Congress tries to ensure each person owns the copyright or patent for his or her ideas and inventions, it also can choose to alter the rules if giving the creator control would hinder further progress dealing with the invention or area of research.

It is important to keep in mind that the Copyright Clause only applies to original creations or inventions. Changing an invention might allow the scientist to request a patent for a new part he created, but he cannot patent the entire machine since he did not invent it himself. A writer working on a novel is covered under copyright law only as long as the story is an original work she created herself.

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