Stationers v. Seymour (1677)
Chapter 2 in: Landmark Cases in Intellectual Property Law (Jose Bellido ed., Hart Publishing 2017), Forthcoming
Posted: 17 Jan 2017
Date Written: January 13, 2017
This chapter discusses the role that Stationers v. Seymour, a case decided in the Court of Common Pleas in 1677, played in the recognition of common-law copyright in England in the 18th century. At issue in Seymour was the validity of the patent for printing almanacs, which King James I had granted in perpetuity to the Company of Stationers in 1616. The defendant John Seymour had printed an almanac without the license of the Company. The Court upheld the King’s right to grant the patent. During the great literary property debates of the mid-to-late 18th century, proponents of common-law copyrights often cited Seymour, alongside other printing-patent decisions, as evidence of a right in authors that antedated the Statute of Anne (1710). Many scholars today have questioned that reliance, arguing that the case was not at all probative of authors’ rights. This chapter revisits Seymour in light of numerous newly discovered manuscript reports and records, and it reveals that students of the case, particularly those who have studied the decision in the last 100 years, have often misunderstood the circumstances of the dispute. Ultimately, in light of its findings, this chapter argues that Seymour appears more probative of authorial rights than skeptics have previously supposed.
Keywords: copyright history, patent history, legal history, monopolies, authorship, work-for-hire doctrine, company of stationers, seymour, common law, almanacs, statute of anne
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