Last Saturday night (Motzei Shabbat Shira – 10 Shvat, 15 January 2011) marked a year since the late Dr Stanley Davis, formerly Senior Partner at JMB, Factor & Co. passed away. Dr Davis was active in patents, firstly as an Examiner in the UK Patent Office, and then, since relocating to Israel, as a Patent Attorney in private practice.
To mark the year since his passing, the Davis family, including son and business partner, Jeremy M Ben David, presented an embroidered Ark curtain to the Ramatayim Zofim Synagogue where Dr Davis regularly prayed.
Professor Gershon Bacon, a Historian at Bar Ilan University, gave a fitting memorial lecture looking at the changing relationship to copyright issues in Rabbinic responsa.
Quoting Jeremiah 23:30 :
“Therefore,” declares the LORD, “I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me.”
Bacon showed that plagiarism and falsely attributing material is not a new problem.
The moral requirement to attribute sources of information is found in the ancient Midrash Tanchuma comment on Numbers 27, where it is clear that the obligation to attribute the source of information extended beyond idea and concepts relating to Jewish Theology and Law to other types of data. This can be seen from the scriptural reference to Queen Esther, who on reporting to King Ahasuerus the plot by two of his courtiers to assassinate him, cited Mordecai as the source of the information.
According to Bacon, copyright became an issue with the advent of printing, mostly to protect the publishers who had invested to bring a book to market, rather than authors. This development is similar to early copyright in the UK, which was a State monopoly granted to the stationers guild, and served as a means of controlling the dissemination of undesirable ideas. In the then, largely autonomous Jewish communities, books were published with Rabbinic approval of the subject matter, and with a ban against copying for a short period, typically 10-15 years. By way of example, Bacon reproduced and referred to the Rabbinic Approval of a songbook published in Italy in 1623, where, amongst other Rabbinic signatories, was Simcha Luzzatto, an early rabbinic forbear of Kfir Luzzatto, a practising Israel patent attorney. We note that the Jewish approach predated the Statute of Anne of 1709.
A second revolution came about in the late 18th to early 19th century with emancipation, since Rabbinic courts lost their autonomy over financial matters and were often restricted from being able to excommunicate sinners, either by State law, or simply, had lost the power over sinners who could leave the community and enter the wider population. Bacon reported a discussion between Rabbi Moses Sofer (Hatam Sofer) and the Rabbi of Dihernfurt that is illustrative of the problems at the time, also exacerbated by the fact that Non-Jewish publishers were encroaching on the Jewish publishing scene, and were not bound by bans on publication.
To finish off, a responsum dated 1979 by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a leading Hallachic Authority of the previous generation was discussed, in which he ruled against unauthorized copying of sound recordings.
The event packed the Synagogue and was a fitting tribute to the late Dr Davis, a patent attorney with a scholarly bent with wide academic interests, whose career spanned over 50 years.