There has, of late, been some excellent work by academic non-lawyers that throws different lights on the origins of intellectual property rights. Among the non-lawyers doing first rate work on copyright issues are Elizabeth Armstrong, Carla Hesse (I particularly admire her willingness to point out important historical inaccuracies in Foucault's grand pronouncements), Adrian Johns , Nancy A. Mace, Mark Rose, and Christopher Witcombe.
These non-lawyers have in turn, helped produce much better scholarship by copyright lawyers, and I heartily recommend Professor Michael Carroll's 2005 "The Struggle for Music Copyright" as an example of the best of the new scholarship. While it may seem harsh or disrepectful to say so (and neither is my intention), the works of the late L. Ray Patterson, such as his 1968 Copyright in Historical Perspective, fall into an all-too-common pattern found in historical writing on copyright.
Professor Patterson read back into the entire history of copyright what was no more than a pet theory about access and fair use, dressed up as history. His reading back in history began with an inaccurate view of copyright as the stepchild of censorship (based on equating the Stationers Company's licensing acts as the parents of the Statute of Anne), went through a misunderstanding of the 1909 Act, and straight into his conclusion that things had gone very awry in the 1976 Act. I debated him once in the mid 1980s, purely on historically verifiable points, and his lack of knowledge should have been humiliating, but it left him undeterred in continuing to press the same points that were shown to be demonstrably false (e.g., that unpublished television programs weren't protected under the 1909 Act; they were): grand theories aren't easily shaken, or as my late mother (aleha hashalom) would say when backed into a corner: "Don't confuse me with the facts."
Another grand theory places the transition from royal privileges and monopolies (like the Stationers' Company) to Statutes like Anne, our 1790 Act, and the 1791 and 1793 French copyright acts as being the result of the rise of the Romantic author. This is hooha, and to me it marred early interdisciplinary approaches to authorship and originality. Why, for example, were there royal privileges granted to music until the 1770s in England, six decades after the Statute of Anne if the Statute of Anne represented the end of the old order and the dawn of the new, author-centric era? Why did works of great classical beauty like sculpture not receive copyright until the end of the 19th century, and choreography in the United States until the 1950s? Why was there no true copyright law in Germany (the land not the nation) until the 19th century?
Technological determinism is another grand theory: copyright arose out of the printing press and every new technological development brings about a new "paradigm shift"(to use Kuhn's well-known term sarcastically), from photocopy machines, to VCRs, and of course the Internet. A careful review of the historical record, now being done, is beginning to give us a fuller and therefore better picture. And for that, we can largely thank cultural historians, so I do. Thanks and please keep going.