"Pirate" Publishing: The Battle Over Perpetual Copyright in Eighteenth-Century Britain
In 1774, Edinburgh “pirate publisher” Alexander Donaldson boldly challenged a group of major London booksellers who sought to monopolize the right to copy books in perpetuity. Why is there a time limit on copyright? This book goes back to the beginning on this question by focusing on a pivotal eighteenth-century court debate in England from a social and cultural point of view. Its historical investigation of the issues of copyright is based on detailed documentary research.
The book explores the relationships among the booksellers, lawyers, members of the nobility, and writers who formed the backdrop to the eighteenth-century publishing industry, a backdrop that offers many insights in considering the issues of copyright today. It is also a history of publishing culture, introducing the ideas and debates about literary works prevailing at that time and the people who figured in those debates.
“It is difficult to treat ‘monopoly’ or ‘piracy’ as a clear dichotomy of good and bad,” writes Yamada in his conclusion. “Both were ultimately acting in the pursuit of economic gain, and both claimed to either represent the rights of authors or the convenience of readers to defend their own position. This book tries to illustrate how their head-on clash in the courtroom, intertwined with the interpersonal relationships among lawyers and judges. This approach may seem curious to scholars of law who may be interested primarily in a detailed analysis of the logical structure of court debates. I am convinced, however, that matters not to be found in the courtroom debates alone can show us the forces that set history in motion.”
Copyright is an artificial thing, which was born out of the pulsing magma that was the emergence of modern society. Today in the twenty-first century, once again society is undergoing great changes wrought by advances in digital technology and the development of global capitalism. Renewed debate over copyright is indispensable. A parable for the digital media era, this book’s examination of the historic case of Donaldson offers valuable hints as we develop our ownstance on the issues of copyright.