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Copyright debates in the Eighteenth Century


Bath Spa University

Courtesy McMaster University LIbrary
I've chosen a number of texts from the eighteenth century that debate the issue of copyright, in the hope this might prove useful for my students.

It's not exhaustive (for instance, it would be nice to have the Act of 1710). A useful link that gives another form of access to texts or summaries is the website Primary Sources on Copyright 1450-1900.

Note. The following is an experiment in using the 18thConnect Exhibit Builder. It's not by any means finished - I could add summaries of each text, include links to external sources, and more extensively tag each text object. Some tips on using the text editor:
  1. If you want to list your work as I have done, have your list of 'My 18th' objects open in another window, since you can't see your objects until you link to them. This way you can also open an object in ECCO for more detail if you need it.
  2. Write your text *before* adding links (it's difficult to insert plain text after a link, unless you use return / insert a line break). Click on 'OK' regularly to ensure you've saved your work.

Daniel Defoe, An Essay on the Regulation of the Press. 1704

Defoe's essay might at first seem unconcerned with copyright, but rather with press censsorship, an issue close to his heart. However, this is an important document in the eighteenth-century debate about literary property since it is an early argument that copyright should be linked to the name of an author. For most of this period, the debate concerned the rights of publishers.

John How, Some Thoughts on the Present State of Printing. 1709

Anonymous. A second letter from an author to a Member of Parliament; containing, some further remarks on a late letter concerning the bill now depending in the House of Commons, for the encouragement of learning. 1735

Anonymous. An enquiry into the nature and origin of literary property. 1762

Anonymous. A vindication of the exclusive right of authors to their own works: a subject now under consideration before the twelve judges of England. 1762

Alexander Donaldson [attributed]. Some thoughts on the state of literary property, humbly submitted to the consideration of the public. 1764

Anonymous [by John Maclaurin, Lord Dreghorn]. Considerations on the nature and origin of literary property. 1767

Anonymous [by John Maclaurin, Lord Dreghorn]. Considerations on the nature and origin of literary property ... To which is added, a letter to Robert Taylor, bookseller, in Berwick. 1768

Reader of Books. A letter from a gentleman in Edinburgh, to his friend in London; concerning literary property. 1769

Edmund Law. Observations occasioned by the contest about literary property. 1770

Speeches or arguments of the judges of the Court of King's Bench, Viz. Mr. Justice Willes, Mr. Justice Aston, Sir Joseph Yates, and Lord C. Justice Mansfield. in April 1769; in the cause Millar against Taylor, for printing Thomson's Seasons. To which are added explanatory notes, And an Appendix, containing a Short State of Literary Property. 1771

William Enfield. Observations on literary property. 1774

Francis Hargrave. An argument in defence of literary property. 1774

Francis Hargrave. An argument in defence of literary property. ... The second edition: to which is added, a postscript, apologizing for the time and mode of first publishing the argument. 1774

Catherine Macauley. A modest plea for the property of copy right. 1774

Thomas Becket. Alexander Donaldson, and John Donaldson, --- appellants. Thomas Becket, Peter Abraham de Hondt, John Rivington, William Johnson, William Strahan, Thomas Longman, William Richardson, John Richardson, Thomas Lowndes, Thomas Caslon, George Kearsley, Henry Baldwin, Thomas Cadell, William Owen, and Thomas Davies, respondents. The case of the respondents.

Alexander Donaldson. The pleadings of the counsel before the House of Lords, in the great cause concerning literary property; together with the opinions of the learned judges, on the common law copy right of authors and booksellers. 1774

Alexander Donaldson. The cases of the appellants and respondents in the cause of literary property, before the House of Lords: wherein the decree of Lord Chancellor Apsley was reversed, 26 Feb. 1774. with The genuine Arguments of the Council, the Opinions of the Judges, and the Speeches of the Lords, who distinguished themselves on that Occasion. With notes, observations, and references. By a gentleman of the Inner Temple. 1774

The decision of the Court of Session, upon the question of literary property; in the cause John Hinton of London, bookseller, pursuer; against Alexander Donaldson and John Wood, Booksellers in Edinburgh, and James Meurose Bookseller in Kilmarnock, Defenders. Published by James Boswell, Esq; Advocate, One of the Counsel in the Cause. 1774.

William Kenrick. An address to the artists and manufacturers of Great Britain; ... To which is added, an appendix, Containing Strictures on some singular Consequences, attending the late Decision on Literary Property. 1774

An act for relief of booksellers and others, by vesting the copies of printed books in the purchasers of such copies from authors, or their assigns, for a limited time. 1774. [This was not enacted]

Laws concerning property on literary productions, in engravings, designings, and etchings: Useful for authors, printers, booksellers, engravers, designers, and printsellers. Shewing the nature and present state of such property, and the mode of securing it. [1795?]

Henry Lemoine. Typographical antiquities. History, origin, and progress, of the art of printing, ... concluding with the Adjudication of literary property; Or the Laws and Terms to which Authors, Designers, and Publishers, are separately subject. 1797