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 Crucial to this activity has been a burgeoning focus on unpublished primary sources, enabling new and stimulating insights.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 18: Aspects of French literary property developments in the eighteenth (and nineteenth) centuries

Frédéric Rideau


The general foundations of the French droit d’auteur system developed during the eighteenth century, but the principle of exclusivity originally stemmed from royal book privileges, a system which upheld exclusivity (l’exclusif, as Denis Diderot would put it) on book publication, for a limited time. The evolution from privileges to authors as proprietorsin their own right has been deeply debated, both in droit d’auteur and Anglo-American copyright systems. In this respect, the numerous sources directly available on the AHRC-funded Primary Sources on Copyright (1450–1900) website help contribute to objective comparisons. The evolution that occurred showed strong convergences, in particular between France and England, from the time when property rights were roughly envisaged, until being clearly claimed in a more absolute way from the end of the seventeenth century. In other words, the exclusive right of reproduction was to be grounded upstream on the first step of labour leading to publication, that is, on the author’s labour. It is also a well-known paradox (in France, but in England also), although eventually an easy one to explain, that the main supporters of literary property theory were not the authors themselves but primarily the Parisian booksellers, at the expense of their provincial counterparts, who had been progressively neglected in the attribution of the royal favours and privileges.

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