10th April 1710.
One result of the introduction of printing was censorship, particularly by The Stationers’ Company, founded by the Corporation of London in 1403, which regulated the various professions of publishing, printing, bookbinding and booksellers.
This Livery Company and Gild, acquired a Royal Charter in 1557 giving it the right to ban unlicenced books and to seize offending editions which were deemed to offend church or state. This resulted in offenders being brought before the secular authorities or ecclesiastical courts.
The Company also had powers over copyright, once ownership of text (copy) was established, as a bookseller by paying 4d-6d (pence) could register a right to publish a given work.
One example from the Stationers’ Records shows that on 26th November 1607, the stationers John Busby and Nathaniel Butter claimed the right to print: ‘A booke called Master William Shakespeare his historye of Kinge Lear (sic).’
The Licensing of the Press Act 1662 was also enforced by The Stationers’ Company, granting exclusive rights to print, along with responsibility to censor literary works.
However after protests from the public, in 1694 Parliament refused to renew the Licensing Act, thus ending the Stationers’ Company monopoly.
The Stationers’ reacted by advocating other parliamentary bills to protect their interests, but faced with failure on this front, they now emphasized the benefits of the rights of authors to have a monopoly over their works, as opposed to publishers.
The result was The Copyright Act of Queen Anne which came into force Today in 1710, and constituted the first fully-fledged law on copyright to be regulated by the government and courts, rather than by private parties.
The law prescribed a copyright term of 14 years, with provision for a further term, then copyright expired.
That Act was in force until the 1842 Copyright Act, which lasted until the complete revision of copyright legislation in 1911, which introduced areas of copyright other than printing. It also ended regulation by Stationers’ Hall.(1)
Stationers’ Hall was originally built to represent the interests of booksellers who inhabited stalls or stations at St.Paul’s, London, their first site being at St. Peter’s College in the 1500s, which had been taken over as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries..
They later moved to Abergavenny Hall, in the City, which was largely destroyed in the Great Fire and then moved to their present site near Ludgate Hill.
(1a) The Act of 1911 received its Royal Assent on 16.12.1911, coming into effect 1.7.1912.
(1b) Frances Hodgson-Burnett in 1888 won a lawsuit over the dramatic rights to ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’, which established a precedent to be included in the British Copyright Law 1911.