Collecting & Copyright: Three Case Studies

A series of three 15–minute talks followed by 15 minutes of Q&A held on Tuesday, 10 November 2020, 4–5:00 p.m. ET, via Zoom.

For those who collect, curate, or deal in contemporary rare books and archives, copyright law can present formidable restrictions on the access and use of rare materials not yet in the public domain. At the same time, the study of former copyright laws, now out of date, can provide insight into past publishing histories, particularly the ways in which copyright shaped and influenced the spread of books and images in print. These histories can add value and coherence to existing collections, as well as suggest productive avenues for book-historical teaching and research.

This panel explored copyright, past and present, from the perspective of a leading private collector, a scholar-curator, and a copyright consultant in an academic library. The audience learned how copyright law shaped the publication of gaming books in eighteenth-century Britain, and how it influenced the spread of images in nineteenth-century America. The presentation also addressed the ways in which copyright law is currently affecting how we share and access Black archives today. As part of their short, 15-minute presentations, the speakers offered key takeaways for collectors, curators, and booksellers; in addition, they addressed questions from participants as part of a live Q&A.

This panel discussion was presented live in November 2020. The session was recorded, and you are invited to watch the recording of the event below via our RBS YouTube channel.

Three Case Studies

The Green Book for Hacking Early 20th-Century African-American Copyright Issues

Presented by Arnetta C. Girardeau

From the Green Book, to John Hope Franklin’s unpublished manuscripts, to Black GI scrapbooks, items in Duke University Libraries help tell African American stories from the early-twentieth century—the uncertain “grey area” where painstaking copyright review must be conducted before exhibiting or digitizing works. Using Duke’s collections as a case study, Arnetta Girardeau discussed how she “hacks” copyright for exhibitions from the John Hope Franklin Research Center in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and how she and her team, which includes copyright experts, curators, and tech specialists, confidently communicate their review.

The Loss of Copyright Protection for Hoyle’s Games

Presented by David Levy

The works of Edmond Hoyle, including the bestselling Hoyle’s Games, were protected by copyright through most of the eighteenth century. Until 1774, Hoyle was merely another author. With the loss of copyright protection, however, Hoyle’s text and even his name became available to all booksellers—leading to a burst of new versions of Hoyle’s Games in print. Hoyle became a brand or even a genre. David Levy examined the end of the Hoyle monopoly and the ensuing competitive market in the London book trade. At the top end, booksellers produced books that carried all of Hoyle’s text plus innovations spurred by the competition among them. At the low end, booksellers produced abridgements that survive in small numbers, providing challenges and rewards for the researcher or collector.

Viewing Nineteenth-Century American Photography Through the Lens of Copyright Law

Presented by Katherine Mintie

In this talk, Katherine Mintie focused on the rise of photographic copyright laws in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century, and the impact the 1865 Copyright Act had on the growing American photography industry. The talk also addressed how to read photographic copyright notices for research purposes, and should prove helpful for curators, collectors, and dealers alike. As was discussed, these notices can be illuminating but also misleading.


Arnetta C. Girardeau, J.D., is the Copyright and Information Policy Consultant at Duke University Libraries. In addition to providing copyright expertise for the use of rare books and archival collections, she meets with all members of the Duke community to discuss copyright and connected issues, including best practices for using other people’s work in teaching, research, and publishing. Before coming to Duke, Arnetta worked in various legal and library roles. She received an AB from Harvard University, a J.D. from the University of North Carolina School of Law, an M.S.L.I.S. from Florida State University, and an M.A. from Duke University.

David Levy is retired from a career in information technology in the financial services industry. He has had a lifelong interest in games, particularly bridge and backgammon, and found that reading and collecting instructional books greatly improved his tournament results. As career and family interfered with serious play, he began to amass gaming literature that was more historical than practical. When he acquired a rare first edition of Edmond Hoyle’s treatise on whist 15 years ago, he wanted better to understand the hand-press book, and enrolled in “Introduction to the Principles of Bibliographical Description” at the Rare Book School. The acquisition and the class were each life-changing. More acquisitions and more classes followed, as did visits to the great institutional collections of gaming literature. He maintains an online descriptive bibliography of Edmond Hoyle and the blog “Edmond Hoyle, Gent.”

Katherine Mintie is the John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Curatorial Fellow in Photography at the Harvard Art Museums. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and her research focuses on the history of photography in the United States. Currently, she is working on projects related to early photographic copyright law in the United States and the transatlantic exchange of photographic prints through nineteenth-century photography periodicals. She is a Senior Fellow in Rare Book School’s Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography.


Barbara Heritage is the Associate Director & Curator of Collections at Rare Book School. She received her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia, and has written extensively on the manuscripts and publishing history of Charlotte Brontë. She is currently working with an international team of scholars who are editing the writings of the Brontës for Cambridge University Press. She is also currently co-editing a collected volume on critical-bibliographical and book-historical pedagogies resulting from the conference, “Bibliography Among the Disciplines,” that she and Donna Sy co-chaired together in 2017. She currently serves as the Secretary of the Antiquarian Book School Foundation and as the Chair of the New Scholars Program Committee of the Bibliographical Society of America.