Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Founding-Era Translations of the Progress Clause

Before its ratification, the U.S. Constitution was translated for the German- and Dutch-speaking populations of Pennsylvania and New York, but little attention has been paid to these translations until now. In Founding-Era Translations of the United States Constitution, Christina Mulligan, Michael Douma, Hans Lind, and Brian Quinn analyze how these translations might aid interpretation of the Constitution today.

Of greatest interest to readers of this blog is likely the Progress Clause:
  • English: 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 . . . .
  • German: Die Aufnahme der Wissenschaften und nützlichen Künste dadurch zu befördern, daβ er denen Autoren und Erfindern das ausschliessende Recht zu ihern respectiven Schriften und Entdeckungen für eine gewisse Zeit versichert . . . .
  • Dutch: Om den voordgang van weetenschap en nuttige konsten te bevorderen door (voor bepaalde tyden) aan de autheurs, en uitvinders te verzeekeren het uit sluitend regt tot hare bysondere schriften en ontdekkingen . . . .
The authors conclude that the translations "tend to comport with the dominant academic understanding of the phrase 'science and useful Arts,'" but that the translations of "for limited Times" "may slightly differ from the Supreme Court's interpretation" in Eldred v. Ashcroft. Both translations "suggest that in addition to not being infinite, the term of a patent or copyright would have to be [a] specific, particular length of time, not necessarily alterable in the future."

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