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History of Copyright, part 3: The Monopoly Dies – And Rises

21

Copyright Monopoly

Copyright Monopoly

After Bloody Mary had enacted the copyright censorship monopoly in 1557, neither the profitable industry guild nor the censoring Crown had any desire to abolish it. It would stand for 138 years uninterrupted.

As we have seen, the copyright monopoly was instituted as a censorship mechanism by Mary I in 1557 to prevent people from discussing or disseminating Protestant material. Her successor, Elizabeth I, was just as happy to keep the monopoly after Mary’s death in 1558 to prevent people from discussing or disseminating Catholic material.

During the 1600s, Parliament gradually tried to wrestle control of the censorship from the Crown. In 1641, Parliament abolished the court where copyright cases had been tried, the infamous Star Chamber. In effect, this turned violation of the monopoly into a sentenceless crime, much like jaywalking in Sweden today: while it was still technically a crime, and techically illegal, you could not be tried for it and there was no punishment. As a result, creativity in Britain soared into the stratosphere.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t what Parliament had had in mind at all.

In 1643, the copyright censorship monopoly was reinstituted with a vengeance. It included demands for pre-registrations of author, printer and publisher with the London Company of Stationers, a requirement for publication license before publishing anything, the right for the Stationers to impound, burn and destroy unlicensed equipment and books, and arrests and harsh punishments for anybody violating the copyright censorship.

Fast forwarding a bit, there was something called the Glorious Revolution in 1688, and Parliament’s composition changed radically to mostly people who had previously been at the business end of censorship and weren’t all too keen for that to continue. Therefore, the Stationers’ monopoly was made to expire in 1695.

So from 1695 onward, there was no copyright. None. Creativity soared — again — and historians claim that many of the documents that eventually led to the founding of the United States of America were written in this time.

Unfortunately, the London Company of Stationers were not happy at all with the new order where they had lost their lucrative monopoly. They gathered their families on the stairs of Parliament and begged for the monopoly to be reinstated.

It is noteworthy that authors did not ask for the copyright monopoly: the printers and distributors did. There was never an argument along the lines that nothing would be written without copyright; the argument was that nothing would be printed without copyright. This is something else entirely.

Parliament, having just abolished censorship, was keen on not reinstituting a central point of control with a possible abuse potential. The Stationers’ responded by suggesting that writers should “own” their works. In doing so, they killed three birds with one stone. One, Parliament would be assured that there was no central point of control which could be used to censor. Two, the publishers would retain a monopoly for all intents and purposes, as the writers would have nobody to sell their works to but the publishing industry. Three, and perhaps most importantly, the monopoly would be legally classified as Anglo-Saxon Common Law rather than the weaker Case Law, and therefore given much stronger legal protection.

They publishing lobby got as they wanted, and the new copyright monopoly was re-enacted in 1709, taking effect on April 10, 1710. This was the copyright lobby’s first major victory.

What we see at this point in history is copyright in its unspun form: a monopoly with heritage from censorship where artists and authors were not even considered, but where it was always for the publishers’ profit.

Also, the Stationers would continue to impound, destroy and burn others’ printing presses for a long time, despite not having the right any longer. Abuse of power came immediately, and would last until the pivotal Entick vs. Carrington case in 1765, when yet another of these raids for “unlicensed” (read unwanted) authors had taken place. In the verdict of this court case in 1765, it was firmly established that no right may be denied to any citizen if not expressly forbidden by law, and that no authority may take itself any right not explicitly given by law.

Thus, the very first foundations of modern democracy and civil liberties were won in the battle against the copyright monopoly. There is nothing new under the sun.

Next: Reading Books Without Paying? That’s Stealing!

Previous: A Vengeful Daughter Creates Censorship.

Sources: Question Copyright and the Wikipedia articles linked.

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About The Author: Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. He has a tech entrepreneur background and loves whisky.

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21

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Falkvinge, Piratpartiet Live!, lillebrorsan, Doktor FrankenTan, Razor and others. Razor said: Falkvinge: History of Copyright, part 3: The Monopoly Dies – And Rises http://bit.ly/f6nPXs [...]

  2. 2

    1557 to 1695 is only 138 years, not 148… :)

  3. 3
    steffo

    “As a result, creativity in Britain soared into the stratosphere.” and “Creativity soared — again — and historians claim that many of the documents that eventually led to the founding of the United States of America were written in this time.”
    This stands unreferenced, how can we be sure that this accually happened? Why whould we take your word for it? I personally would like some reference in the text to accually be able to verify your claims.

    • 3.1

      @steffo

      go to a library open a history book about British law find the section about printing privileges, then get record’s of arrests for unlawful publishing of texts, from the specified eras above. and you will see that in the brief times between nullifying the law and then reinstating it the loads of people got arrested, if your lucky you might also find records on what material was confiscated. most of it where recipes for food or medicine “picture pamphlets of various sorts” as-well as story’s and recounts of events by journalists and people who could write, most of the confiscated journalist material was usually seized by request of a lord or duke who did not want a scandal involving them or companies they had outed to the public so these printing privileges that copyright come from are not only part of censorship they are also played a big part in corruption.

      • 3.1.1

        @steffo i cant give you the specific books but ask the librarian about history books about law, ask a courthouse you might have to pay for this information since its not computerised and they have to “work” to find it them self as-well as copy it. ask for arrest records on unlawful publishing from 1630-1850 if you are unlucky you might not get any from 1600 and will have to go from 1730 somewhere.

  4. 4

    This isn’t what you learn in the school! :-)

  5. 5
    Putte

    The excellent principle laid out in the Entick vs. Carrington case should be contrasted with the totally opposite principle that is the foundation for Code Napoleon, which is the building block for the legal system in most Continental countries as well as the EU.

    Code Napoleon: Everything not explicitly allowed be the politicians is banned and prohibited. Freedom will never go further than what the government allow you to do.

  6. [...] copyright monopoly was re-enacted in this form in 1709, and took effect on April 10, 1710, in the so-called Statute of [...]

  7. [...] unless a middleman can make a profit distributing it. And thus, we have come full circle from the deception of the British Parliament in [...]

  8. [...] Next: The copyright battles begin, with victories for both sides. [...]

  9. [...] gathered their families on the stairs of English Parliament to claim that no culture would be printed or distributed if [...]

  10. [...] pridružili vrsti drugih držav, ki izvajajo reforme za zaščito avtorjev, kar so v resnici ukrepi za zaščito distributerjev in odličen način nadzora nad posameznikom. Seveda so zakon pomagali pisati ameriški diplomati, [...]

  11. [...] History of copyright, part 3: the monopoly dies – and rises (en español) [...]

  12. [...] would get printed and distributed if the publishing guild couldn’t get the copyright monopoly reinstated, the lucrative monopoly that had previously been a censorship regime. Importantly, they [...]

  13. [...] would get printed and distributed if the publishing guild couldn’t get the copyright monopoly reinstated, the lucrative monopoly that had previously been a censorship regime. Importantly, they [...]

  14. [...] would get printed and distributed if the publishing guild couldn’t get the copyright monopoly reinstated, the lucrative monopoly that had previously been a censorship regime. Importantly, they didn’t [...]

  15. [...] would get printed and distributed if the publishing guild couldn’t get the copyright monopoly reinstated, the lucrative monopoly that had previously been a censorship regime. Importantly, they [...]

  16. [...] would get printed and distributed if the publishing guild couldn’t get the copyright monopoly reinstated, the lucrative monopoly that had previously been a censorship regime. Importantly, they [...]

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Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. He has a tech entrepreneur background and loves whisky.

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