31 Int'l J. Legal Info. 168 (2003)
An Historical Overview of American Law Publishing

handle is hein.journals/ijli31 and id is 230 raw text is: An Historical Overview of American Law Publishing

MORRIS L. COHEN*
Law publishing - that is, the reproduction and dissemination of
statutes, judicial decisions, commentaries, legal forms and texts - is as old as
writing and can be found in all literate societies. In the ancient world, written
law was essential to political and social relations. That can be seen from the
importance given to law codes in the Semitic, Greek and Roman societies.
Over the centuries and in every medium from stone and clay, papyrus and
parchment, to paper and the electronic media of our day - law has been a
major component of literature. The very fact of publication is an essential
requirement for the enactment and efficacy of laws in many societies.'
Publication of law was widespread before the invention of printing and was
achieved by reproducing important texts in multiple manuscript copies which
could then be disseminated to libraries, officials and others who needed them
and could afford them. The printing of law depended not only on the invention
of the press itself, but also on the acceptance of what more accessible law
might mean to society. In England, for example this was a matter of
considerable controversy for over a hundred years.'
The major sources of English law at the beginning of the 17t century,
when the American colonies were being settled, were law reports, that is
reports of cases decided by courts; statutes, that is laws passed by Parliament;
Law Librarian (Retired) and Emeritus Professor of Law, Yale Law School,
New Haven, Connecticut. ©Morris L. Cohen 2003.
This is neatly summarized in M. E. Katsh, The Electronic Media and the
Transformation of Law (1989) Ch. 1.
2 See Richard J. Ross, The Commoning of the Common Law: the Renaissance
Debate over Printing English Law, 1520-1640, 146 University of Pennsylvania Law
Review 323-461 (1998).

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