Table of Contents

Research Handbook on the History of Copyright Law

Research Handbook on the History of Copyright Law

Research Handbooks in Intellectual Property series

Edited by Isabella Alexander and H. Tomás Gómez-Arostegui

There has been an explosion of interest in recent years regarding the origin and of intellectual property law. The study of copyright history, in particular, has grown remarkably in the last twenty years, with a flurry of activity in the last ten. Crucial to this activity has been a burgeoning focus on unpublished primary sources, enabling new and stimulating insights. This Handbook takes stock of the field of copyright history as it stands today, as well as examining potential developments in the future.

Chapter 12: Proto-property in literary and artistic works: Sixteenth century papal printing privileges

Jane C. Ginsburg

Subjects: law - academic, intellectual property law


This Study endeavors to reconstruct the Vatican’s precursor system of copyright, and the author’s place in it, inferred from examination of over 500 privileges and petitions and related documents – almost all unpublished – in the Vatican Secret Archives. The typical account of the precopyright world of printing privileges, particularly in Venice, France and England, portrays a system primarily designed to promote investment in the material and labor of producing and disseminating books; protecting or rewarding authorship was at most an ancillary objective. As the former Register of Copyrights Barbara Ringer put it: ‘The author was the forgotten figure in th[e] drama [of the origins of copyright], which was played out during the 16th and 17th centuries in England, France and other Western European countries … .’ The sixteenth-century Papal privileges found in the Archives, however, prompt some rethinking of that story because the majority of these privileges were awarded to authors, and even where a printer received a privilege for a work of a living author, the petition increasingly asserted the author’s endorsement of the application. The predominance of authors might prompt the conclusion that the Papal privilege system more closely resembled modern copyright than printer-centered systems. That said, it would be inaccurate and anachronistic to claim that authorship supplied the basis for the grant of a Papal privilege. Nonetheless, a sufficient number of petitions and privileges invoke the author’s creativity that one may cautiously suggest that authorship afforded a ground for bestowing exclusive rights.

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

Elgaronline requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals. Please login through your library system or with your personal username and password on the homepage.

Non-subscribers can freely search the site, view abstracts/ extracts and download selected front matter and introductory chapters for personal use.

Your library may not have purchased all subject areas. If you are authenticated and think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

Further information