The Beginning of Copyright

Boston Transcript

The 10th of April, 1710, is a noteworthy date in the history of literature. On that day came into operation an act "for the encouragement of learning by vesting the copies of printed books in the authors or purchasers of such copies." This was the first measure passed for the protection of literary property; the word "copyright," according to Dr. Murray, was not used before 1767. In the preamble of the bill, which is said to have been drafted by Dean Swift, the necessity of a measure "to enable learned men to write useful books" is dwelt upon. By its provisions two terms of copyright, each of fourteen years, were created for all future publications, one term to follow immediately upon the other, if the author were still living at the expiration of the first term. According to a subsidiary clause, if any publisher issued a book at a price judged too high by certain "discreet persons," he was liable to a penalty. The "discreet persons" included, among others, the archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, and the vice chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge; on them devolved the somewhat delicate task of fixing the book's value. This clause was repealed in 1739; but the term of copyright remained unaltered until 1842, when it was extended to the life of the author and seven years, or forty-two years from the date of publication, which ever may prove longer. England was the first country thus to protect the rights of authors. France followed suit in 1793; but in Germany no copyright law existed until 1870.—Boston Transcript.

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