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Women in History For Women's History Month

Revisiting the Copyright Office’s Focus on Women in Copyright

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Women in History For Women's History Month

The following is a guest post by Librarian-in-Residence Marilyn Creswell.

Over the years, the U.S. Copyright Office has explored the many ways women have influenced creativity, copyright, and the Office itself. Women authors and the women within our own institution are key participants in the country’s copyright system. As part of our celebration of Women’s History Month, we want to highlight some of our previous discussions on women in copyright.

First, there is no dispute that women are exceptional creators. Women’s role in creativity and the U.S. copyright system spans all types of works and uses. In the past, the Office has reviewed authorship in the field of books, including works by authors like Louisa May Alcott, Virginia Woolf, and Mary Shelley, who all contributed immensely to our culture. Additionally, women writers have participated in the copyright registration system since its inception. As noted in our blog post “The Copyright Office Celebrates Women,” Olive G. Pettis became the first woman known to register a literary work with the Office when, less than a month after the Office was established, she registered her book The Historical Life of Jesus of Nazareth, and Extracts from the Apostolic Age. Our articles have also detailed some of the many treasures from women authors in our records, like the signed registration for Susan B. Anthony’s History of Woman Suffrage, Volume II, and Zora Neale Hurston’s lesser-known play scripts. We have also shown how the Office’s registration system includes lectures by Sarah Winnemucca and Maria Montessori.

Literary works, however, are not the only types of work that the Office has explored. The copyright history of musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald, Gloria Gaynor, Cyndi Lauper, Shakira, and many other famous women songwriters is well-documented in Office materials. Some of these authors’ works have entered the public domain, and many have inspired additional copyright moments; all of them have brought joy to audiences. Music often inspires dance, including choreography by Hanya Holm (who contributed to the development of copyright protection for choreography in the United States) and performances by legendary dancers like Ginger Rogers (who, along with others, danced the Charleston). The Office has also looked at how women have authored innumerable original visual works, including stunning photographs and beautiful quilts.

Second, women are on the cutting edge of discussions about modern technology and copyright. Office events have provided insight into some of this work. For example, during the Office’s artificial intelligence (AI) and copyright symposium last year, we heard from many women about some of the copyright issues surrounding AI, including in video games, articles, and fan fiction. Additionally, the symposium looked at AI from the international perspective, a field in which there are many women, such as Ros Lynch, Ulrike Till, and Michele Woods, who lead and participate in efforts regarding the relationship between AI and copyright.

Moreover, women have been at the forefront of pursuing inclusivity in copyright. As highlighted in our fall 2020 event celebrating inclusion in copyright and former Register of Copyrights Barbara Ringer, we saw how Ringer did much to advocate for women and minorities in the Office and heard from several women on this important issue. In our AI symposium, Miriam Vogel and Amanda Levandowski brought attention to potential biases in the world of artificial intelligence. And in our event on social justice, we saw how women like Kim Tignor and Hollis Wong Wear explain the importance of copyright to all.

This Women’s History Month, and every month, we hope that you will join us in recognizing the prominence of women in copyright. We look forward to highlighting more women this month and in the years to come.

Comments (2)

  1. The momentous efforts of women publishing has detailed the strength and assisted to build and renew the heart of the soul and the endurance of survival. From publications of women overflowing with praise and tender worship to details of human rights and suffrage women are trailblazers.

  2. Thank you for this comprehensive, concise “women’s history” with regard to the US Copyright System. Typically women and others hear about “copyrighting” a book or song but you covered every creative arts category covered by copyrights and women’s contributions in each. I was not aware of, but will now be on the lookout for your symposia on topics such as ‘inclusion’, and Artificial Intelligence.

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