Bernulli, calculus and copyright protection

In what was probably an early example of distance learning, the rich French military man Guillaume François Antoine, hired Johan Bernulli to mentor him.   There was even a written agreement but much of the teaching happened through regular mail.   The  Marquis de l’Hôpital sent questions, Bernulli sent answers.  All went well.   Even when the student published a book based on these letters as his own.

“Infinitesimal calculus with applications to curved lines” is such a useful book even now, that nobody really focuses on the fact that it was plagiarism at its worse.   He hadn’t informed Bernulli and didn’t even directly mention him at all in the book other than a vague sentence about “this work is of course based on a lot of fine thinking before me and has been influenced by thinkers before me and contemporary to me”.   It is irrelevant to a large degree because it is simply the material in a different form, that of a useful compendium textbook on infinitesimal calculus.

There are a number of interesting facets to this story in view of ACTA, SOPA and all the modern copyright wars.   (By the way, why is Business Software Alliance keeping such a low profile as the world rages against ACTA?  ; ) One is that the book initially appeared anonymously.   Possibly so that the marquis could evaluate its success before claiming it.   The other was that Bernulli didn’t react at first.   As the years past and the book became a reference point he increased his complaints though!   Up until recently, even prominent mathematical historians like Struik wrote: “By 1696 the first textbook on calculus appeared, the Analyse des infiniment petits,written by the Marquis de l’Hospital under the strong influence of Johann Bernoulli, who for a while had tutored him.”  The same person who described it as a “strong influence” later fumed “Let the good Marquis keep his elegant rule; he paid for it.”

Rather old school copyright thinking, eh?

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