Kathy Bowrey

“The World Daguerreotyped – What a Spectacle!” Copyright law, photography and the importance of a public visual space’

Kathy Bowrey

Faculty of Law, University of NSW


This paper concerns copyright law and the history of photography. As has been documented by other writers such as Edelman, Bently and Deazley, the inclusion of photography in the copyright regime was controversial because of the mechanical and scientific nature of the method of production. However there is more to the story of copyright law and photography than one about classificatory objections and the derisory attitudes of particular legal and cultural elites about a new technology. The legal history needs to be understood in light of a much wider celebration of the wonder of photography and its importance to the world. Enthusiasm for the photographic medium impacted on political, economic and social life. This in turn left a mark on copyright law.

My presentation considers (1) The role of photography in constructing the political idea of the Nation and the priority of creating a public visual space; (2) the importance of copied images to Art Education, ideas of progress and civilisation; (3) the production of authorized copies for the art reproduction market, and (4) broader debates about piracy and the apparent ease of enforcement of a controversial copyright.

This historical account of photography and the public visual space is a positive one about how a complex mix of the public, political and economic motivations impact on rights in practice.

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