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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds The printing press inaugurated a new time in history when reading became valuable. The new commercial activities of printing and publishing gave birth to a marketplace for writers. While copyright, as a guarantee of ownership of literary works, was adopted by publishers in England. Monopolies and the privilege of exclusivity, guaranteed by authorities, was seen as necessary conditions to generate wealth throughout Europe. This period also saw significant economic and political changes. Economically, it experienced increased accumulation of gold and silver, while money became the primary means of conducting business transactions. An incredible expansion of international commerce and sharing of knowledge became key effects of the discovery of the New World. It also saw the birth of capitalism.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds Politically, this era was marked by modern states holding centralised political power. This produced economic growth and the expansion of domestic markets. It also promoted the development of knowledge as well as the urgent necessity to dominate arms and war technology. Together this raised the systemisation of ideas linking wealth accumulation and centralisation of political power with control over knowledge and scientific development. Around the mid 17th century, it became increasingly common for writers to dedicate themselves professionally to the art of writing. They earned their living from the support of maecenas or patrons, and from the publication of their works. However, authors were still not seen as owners of rights, or even as being entitled to the property rights of their works.

Skip to 1 minute and 47 seconds Let’s examine how the ruling process developed during this period. In Venice, a new law was issued in 1526 that made it mandatory to acquire a stamp from the Senate before printing or publishing any texts or books. Meanwhile, England had also established a system to control and regulate such dangerous new modes of communication. Freedom of the press was pursued and attacked for the following three centuries. From the Royal Charter of 1557, the Stationers’ Company had an increasingly prominent role in controlling printing activity. A previous printing licence was required and all books had to be entered in the Stationers’ Company register. The first member of the company to enter a book in the register, acquired the right to it.

Skip to 2 minutes and 35 seconds This relation between the stationer and the acquired title, fitted perfectly into the common idea of property. In 1662, the Parliament of England issued the Licencing of the Press Act. It stated that printing presses could not be set up without first notifying the Stationers’ Company. A King’s messenger had the power to search for unlicensed presses and printing activity, and if discovered, offenders could be fined or imprisoned. In 1695 however, the House of Commons refused to renew the act. And so the stationers lobbied parliament to guarantee the titles registered were their private property.

Skip to 3 minutes and 14 seconds They sought to re-establish the relationship developed throughout the 16th and 17th centuries between the state and the stationers and to maintain both the publisher’s copyright and the existing system of censorship. Negotiations continued until 1710, when the Statute of Queen Anne was issued. This provided a different idea about the ownership of literary work. In 1690, distinguished writer, John Locke, campaigned against the rules of the Printing Press Act. He was assisted by a number of independent printers and booksellers who also opposed the Stationers’ Company monopoly, claiming that the act prevented them from conducting business. Being a writer himself, it may initially seem as though he was campaigning against the previous licence in order to print and publish a text himself.

Skip to 4 minutes and 2 seconds Notwithstanding his revolt against censorship however, when analysing Locke’s theory, we can conclude that he was exasperated with the monopoly system more than anything else. The year before, Locke had published the Second Treatise of Government, which presented his theory of property. It stated that human beings organise themselves into societies to advance their individual rights, which were mainly property rights. Consequently, nothing should limit one’s property unless it is to guarantee institutions created by society, such as the government. In Locke’s view, these institutions existed to secure both property rights and free competition in commercial activities.

Skip to 4 minutes and 45 seconds Ideas such as John Locke’s, shows a shifting trend from mercantilism, with its strong state and power to guarantee security and required to increase wealth, to liberalism, a belief that proclaimed the end of monopolies and promoted individual freedom and competition. The 18th century that followed would begin with innovations that were to impact creators

Censorship, monopolies, the birth of copyright

This video depicts the birth of copyright.

It shows how copyright was created in England as a solution for the challenges raised by Gutenberg’s printing press and the subsequent monopoly granted to Stationer’s company members in exchange for control over ideas that were printed and published in texts.

We will see the responses provoked by monopolies and censorship, as well as observe a shift in economic thought from mercantilism to liberalism.

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This video is from the free online course:

Exploring Copyright: History, Culture, Industry

International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC)

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