Peters, Richard, Jr.
(b. Belmont, Pa., 4 Aug. 1779, sometimes reported as 17 Aug. 1780; d. Belmont, Pa. 2 May 1848), fourth Supreme Court reporter, 1828–1843; also reported Justice Bushrod Washington’s circuit opinions, 1826–1829. Peters is best remembered for his part in Wheaton v. Peters, the Supreme Court’s first *copyright case. Peters’s Condensed Reports (1830–1834) republished the reports of Alexander *Dallas, William *Cranch, and Henry *Wheaton. By paring concurring and dissenting opinions, arguments of counsel, and annotations, Peters was able to cut prices by 75 percent, thereby making the Court’s opinions widely affordable but also destroying Wheaton’s market. Wheaton sued. The Court’s 1834 decision recognized statutory enactment as the only basis for copyright law in the United States, required copyright claimants to show punctilious compliance with the Copyright Act’s statutory formalities, and held even such compliance incapable of affording copyright in the Court’s opinions. Practically speaking, Peters won.
Apart from Wheaton, Peters was less successful. He conceived an early headnote reference system (p. 732) but botched its execution; Congress complained generally about the “accuracy and fidelity” of his Reports; and he offended several justices politically. The Court dismissed him in 1843.
See also reporters, supreme court.
Morris L. Cohen and Sharon Hamby O’Connor, A Guide to the Early Reports of the Supreme Court of the United States (1995), pp. 61–74. Craig Joyce, “The Rise of the Supreme Court Reporter: An Institutional Perspective on Marshall Court Ascendancy,” Michigan Law Review 83 (1985): 1291–1391. Sandra Day O’Connor, The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice, edited by Craig Joyce (2003), chapter 4, “The Supreme Court Reports,” pp. 24–30.