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Law & Literature: Literature in Law

Surveys of literature, law, and censorship

Libel, blasphemy, obscenity and more recent hate-speech and internet censorship laws are entrenched in the history of literary publication. Freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 10 of the European Human Rights Act but there are still many acts that govern free speech.

A defense on the grounds of literary merit was introduced in the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

Literature on trial

There have been many instances of literature running up against the law, and many texts pay attention to some of the famous trials of literature.

From the arguments that pitted aestheticism against Victorian morality in the Oscar Wilde trials, the blasphemy laws that contested with Salman Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses', to controversies like the Whitehouse v Lemon case that pitted James Kirkup's homosexual poem against the law, these debates are of interest to students of both law and literature in the relationship between cultural and legal values.

In the reclassified section of the Law Library, KB60-66 covers popular accounts of trials, where the trials of figures such as Oscar Wilde, DH Lawrence and James Joyce, among others, can be found.

Copyright and literary production

Copyright is a form of intellectual property that legally secures the rights of the author over their creation. The Copyright Act 1710, or the Statute of Anne, was the first act to recognise the legal rights of the author, although it was designed to regulate the book trade rather than anything else. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 is the current UK legislation on this matter, with many directives in order to harmonise it with EU legislation. Copyright is an automatic right of a limited duration (e.g. 70 years after the death of the author for books).

Copinger and Skone James on copyright is the legal guide to copyright and can be found in the Law Bod.