Rethinking Copyright
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Rethinking Copyright

History, Theory, Language

Ronan Deazley

This book provides the reader with a critical insight into the history and theory of copyright within contemporary legal and cultural discourse. It exposes as myth the orthodox history of the development of copyright law in eighteenth-century Britain and explores the way in which that myth became entrenched throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To this historical analysis are added two theoretical approaches to copyright not otherwise found in mainstream contemporary texts. Rethinking Copyright introduces the reader to copyright through the prism of the public domain before turning to the question as to how best to locate copyright within the parameters of traditional property discourse. Moreover, underpinning these various historical and theoretical strands, the book explores the constitutive power of legal writing and the place of rhetoric in framing and determining contemporary copyright policy and discourse.
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Chapter 3: History III: 1854–1912

Ronan Deazley


There is a certain irony in the fact that by the time Jeffreys v. Boosey (1854) (Jeffreys)1 came to be decided before the House of Lords the question of whether, when and how foreign authors would receive copyright protection within Great Britain had largely moved out of the courtroom. In 1844 the International Copyright Act was passed to empower Her Majesty, by means of Order in Council, to provide protection to the authors of books and works of art first published in foreign jurisdictions (subject to British authors receiving reciprocal protections in those jurisdictions).2 The first of these bilateral treaties were entered into with Prussia and Saxony in 1846, followed by Brunswick, the Thuringian Union, Hanover and Oldenberg in 1847, and France in 1851.3 When the House of Lords overturned the decision of Campbell CJ et al., and reinstated Rolfe J’s original direction that the plaintiff had no exclusive copyright in the Italian composer’s opera, the work of many foreign (although not Italian) authors was being routinely protected within Britain. Indeed compared with the 10 years prior to Jeffreys, when roughly one 1 Jeffreys v. Boosey (1854) 4 HLC 815. In Richardson v. Universities of Oxford and Cambridge (1804) 3 Cooper’s Cases 564, the House of Lords had been called upon to adjudicate upon the nature and extent of the royal prerogative to grant exclusive patents for printing certain types of text. That however, had nothing to do with any question of copyright as delineated by the Statute...

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