[ON THIS DAY] The Birth of Copyright: Statute of Anne

Discover how the pioneering legislation, enacted on 10th April 1710, revolutionized the protection of authors' works, ushered in modern copyright law, and laid the groundwork for today's creative and innovative literary landscape.

[ON THIS DAY] The Birth of Copyright: Statute of Anne

Monday April 10, 2023,

3 min Read

The history of copyright legislation dates back more than three centuries, to a time when the written word was gaining immense significance. On 10th April 1710, the Statute of Anne – the first law specifically regulating copyright – came into force in Great Britain, heralding the dawn of intellectual property rights protection. The Statute of Anne not only created a legal framework that changed the course of history, but it also paved the way for contemporary copyright law as we know it today.

Monopoly of the Stationers' Company

Before the Statute of Anne, licensing and censorship of published works in England were controlled by the Stationers' Company, a guild of printers and booksellers. Established in the 16th century, the Company possessed exclusive rights to print and sell books, which consequently led to a monopoly over the publishing industry. This system, however, provided no protection for authors and stifled creative freedom.

The Advent of the Statute of Anne

The Statute of Anne, also known as the Copyright Act 1710, was enacted as a response to the unfairness and limitations imposed by the Stationers' Company. This groundbreaking piece of legislation aimed to create a more equitable environment for both authors and publishers, as well as encourage the dissemination of knowledge.

The statute was named after Queen Anne of Great Britain, who reigned from 1702 until her death in 1714. It marked the birth of modern copyright law by offering protection to authors and their works for a fixed period. Under the statute, authors were granted exclusive rights to print, publish, and sell their works for 21 years for existing works, and 14 years for new works, with the possibility of renewal for an additional 14 years if the author was still alive.

Impact and Legacy

The Statute of Anne's introduction of time-limited copyright was groundbreaking, as it balanced the interests of authors, publishers, and the general public. It prevented monopolies, safeguarded authors' rights, and ultimately promoted creativity, innovation, and the spread of knowledge.

The statute also established the concept of "public domain," as works would become freely available for reproduction and use once their copyright term expired. This encouraged further innovation and allowed for the remixing, adaptation, and creation of new works based on older ones.

The Statute of Anne laid the foundation for subsequent copyright laws, both in Great Britain and across the globe. It was the basis for the United States Copyright Act of 1790, and its principles continue to influence contemporary copyright laws today. The statute's legacy is also evident in international copyright agreements, such as the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886), which now boasts 177 member countries.

The Statute of Anne, which came into force on 10th April 1710, marked a monumental moment in the history of copyright law. As the first law specifically regulating copyright, it played an essential role in shaping the legal landscape and protecting the rights of authors and their works. Over three centuries later, the statute's principles remain relevant in the ongoing quest to balance the interests of creators, publishers, and the public while fostering creativity and innovation in the world of literature and the arts.