Hebrew Authors and English Copyright Law in Mandate Palestine

Michael D. Birnhack


This Article discusses the first steps of Israeli copyright law, dating it back to Ottoman times, which is earlier than thus far discussed in the literature. The account provides an early case of legal globalization through colonialism (although Palestine was a Mandate, not a colony). The imposition of copyright law in Palestine enables us to observe the difficulties of applying an uninvited legal transplant and to trace its dynamics. The discussion queries the fate of copyright law in Mandate Palestine from two perspectives. First, the Colonial-Imperial point of view: I ask why the British government imposed copyright law in the newly administered territory only a month after the establishment of the civil administration in 1920 and then replaced it in 1924. The answers are to be found in the general imperial agenda, its Palestine agenda, as well as the nature of copyright and the personal background of those involved. Second, from the local point of view, I trace the first steps of copyright law within the Hebrew community and especially within the literary circle in the 1920s. The local needs of the literary field concerned the author-publisher relationship, attribution, the integrity of the work and international transactions. However, the answers to these problems were not found in the law but rather in private ordering, namely contracts and social norms.

Full Text: