United States Constitution (1787)

Article I Section 8 Clause 8

[Congress shall have the power…] To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries

This section of Article I forms the legal foundation for copyright in the United States. The authority is given to Congress to create laws granting authors monopolies over their works for limited times. In addition, by including this clause in the United States Constitution, the framers set the governance of copyright as the responsibility of the federal government, rather than the several states. The copyright clause hints at a balancing act between the rights of the authors as well as the rights
of the public. There is no inherent right to monopoly over one’s own work, but Congress may create such a right in the interest of ensuring an incentive for further creativity.

Article VI Clause 2 (“supremacy clause”)

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

The so-called “Supremacy Clause” is tangentially related to copyright in that it places federal law and adopted treaties above all state laws. States cannot, therefore, create laws contradicting the federal law, though they can create laws which build upon it. The result is that copyright laws are relatively uniform throughout the United States, though there are some notable exceptions such as laws governing sound recordings.