The 'Capricious Privilege': Rethinking the Origins of Copyright Under the Tudor Regime
Journal of the Copyright Society of the USA, Vol. 59, p. 391, 2012
43 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2012
Date Written: 2012
This article contributes to the revision of thinking on the origin of author’s copyright by examining the first grant of a printing privilege to an author in the sixteenth century, not with a focus on its value to the author, the humanist scholar Thomas Linacre, but rather on its value to Henry VIII’s regime. The privilege, which applied to a Latin grammar, served Henry VIII’s initiative to foster humanist scholarship in England. The privilege represents early recognition of the power of monopolies in printing rights to incentivize the creation of particular texts. The printing privilege arose when a convergence of factors began to change the economics of book printing, as both supply and demand for printed books increased. Humanist luminaries, like Erasmus and Linacre, created demand for new content from living authors. Yet, the patronage system that largely compensated these authors drove down the prices they were able to get for the sale of their manuscripts to printers and burdened them with obligations to patrons. A close-grained history of Linacre’s privilege, and new evidence in support of dating the privilege before 1517, suggest that Henry VIII used the privilege as a tool, costless to the fisc, to make the publication of Linacre’s Latin grammar textbook more profitable to the author, and thereby to promote an English brand of the New Learning that would increase the prestige of the crown. The advancement of learning has been at the core of Anglo-American copyright since its origins.
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