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Re: <nettime> What has copyright to do with democracy?
Karl-Erik Tallmo on Sat, 27 Jun 2009 09:03:35 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> What has copyright to do with democracy?

Well, Fogel writes several strange things in his article, for example:

"The first copyright law was a censorship law. It had nothing to do 
with protecting the rights of authors, or encouraging them to produce 
new works. Authors' rights were in no danger in sixteenth-century 
England, and the recent arrival of the printing press (the world's 
first copying machine) was if anything energizing to writers."

What he refers to is when the Stationers' Company in 1557 was granted 
the monopoly of printing and in return let themselves be used as an 
instrument for censorship. But this was not a copyright law and 
definitely not the first, not even in the old sense, that is, a guild 
member's license to print copies of a certain work. Such copyright 
had existed since the rise of printing, although the word was not 
used. The word copyright was probably not used until 1701, at least 
not in writing or in print. And censorship had, of course, also 
existed earlier. (Even in France there was a printers' "droit de 
copie" long before the "droit d'auteur".) What happened in 1557 was 
the "incorporation" of the Stationers' Company into the royal 

Fogel's idea is that the statutory copyright of 1710 was a direct 
continuation of the ideas that granted the monopoly of the 
Stationers' Company. But this is not correct. Censorship ended in 
1695 when the Licensing Act was abolished. The Act of 1710 granted 
copyright to authors or their assignees. So it is definitely an 
authors' right, although it is true that authors (as today) seldom 
published their books themselves but were dependent upon 
booksellers/printers. It would be wrong, however, to say that the act 
was a distributors' law and not an authors' law. The famous "Battle 
of the booksellers" that took place approx. 1740-1774 is a well known 
series of court cases, but there were also authors who sued 
booksellers and others, using their new right, for instance Burnet v. 
Chetwood 1720, Gay v. Read 1729, Pope v. Curll 1741 (Pope also went 
to court four more times), Webb v. Rose 1732 (the son of an author) 
and Forrester v. Waller 1741.

It is true, however, that the Statute of Anne was not the result of a 
widespread concern for the wellbeing of authors. After censorship was 
abolished the Stationers wanted to save what they could of their old 
privileges, so they strongly advocated the right for authors, hoping 
that they would assign the rights to the  printers/sellers for ever, 
as the old common law rules allowed. In Parliament there were several 
members who wanted an antimonopoly law for the book trade, and they 
also advocated the Lockean idea to encourage learning. And there were 
also some authors who published pamphlets supporting this, Defoe 
among others. He said that "'Twould be unaccountably severe, to make 
a Man answerable for the Miscarriages of a thing which he shall not 
reap the benefit of if well perform'd ..." The booksellers' hopes for 
a perpetual copyright practically came to nought as we know. 14 years 
at a time was all they got.

/Karl-Erik Tallmo

> >>What has copyright to do with democracy?
>>>Abstract: The debates on whether or not copyright and democracy are
>>>compatible concepts are not new. It has been discussed since the
>>>1700s and concerns a form of separation of powers. Copyright is a
>>>monopoly, but at the same time, when copyright came, it was a strike
>>>at another form of monopoly, the printers' rights, with their roots
>>>in the guild system. Copyright could not occur until censorship was
>>>abolished, and it can actually be seen as a complement to the
>>>freedom of expression. Copyright was early associated with privacy
>>>issues. However, if proportionality is not followed in the
>>>maintenance of law, both integrity and freedom of expression could
>>>be threatened.
>I read your article and found the parts about the first introduction
>of copyright very interesting.
>It reminded me of another article I've read, but this one has a
>completely opposite view on the Statute of Anne:


  KARL-ERIK TALLMO, Swedish writer, artist and journalist.
  ARTICLES: http://www.nisus.se/archive/artiklar.html        
  BLOG: http://slowfox.wordpress.com
  IN ENGLISH: http://slowfox.wordpress.com/category/in-english/

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