Research Handbook on the History of Copyright Law
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Research Handbook on the History of Copyright Law

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 Crucial to this activity has been a burgeoning focus on unpublished primary sources, enabling new and stimulating insights.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.
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Chapter 8: Music copyright in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain

Nancy A. Mace


The history of English music copyright in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is distinct from that of letterpress books because of music’s status as intellectual property and the processes by which music was reproduced during this period. Unlike books printed from moveable type, which were considered a valuable market commodity almost from the invention of the printing press and led to the 1710 Act of Anne, music was largely regarded as ephemera, whose value was so limited that it did not initially warrant protection as intellectual property. However, with the rise of the middle class by the late eighteenth century, the demand for printed music increased, prompting composers and music sellers to attempt to control what had become a profitable commodity. Thus, the latter half of the eighteenth and early years of the nineteenth centuries are significant in the history of music copyright because during that period members of the music trade and their legal representatives considered many of the issues still central to modern concepts of music as intellectual property. As important as musical compositions became in the late eighteenth century, however, individuals involved in the music trade and the courts recognized that laws designed to protect rights in printed books did not easily apply to music. The 1710 Act of Anne did not specifically mention music under the types of publications it covered. In addition, because music was printed from pewter plates rather than moveable type, it more closely resembled engravings, covered by the 1735 Engraving Act.

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