With respect to copyright law, newspapers have followed a different trajectory than books. Although complaints about the piracy of news go back to the seventeenth century, the first copyright statute in Britain (1710) did not mention periodicals, which frequently copied from each other. Intense competition during the 1730s led to a brief debate about whether writings in newspapers and magazines could be copyrighted, but almost nobody supported the idea. Despite ongoing efforts to extend the duration and scope of literary property, newspaper owners showed no interest in copyright until the middle of the nineteenth century. More than technological change, it was the campaign against the so-called “taxes on knowledge” that got their attention. In the 1830s and again in the 1850s, London daily newspapers lobbied Parliament for a special copyright that would protect them against a flood of cheap “pirate” papers. The provincial press and the telegraph companies opposed them on economic and political grounds, invoking the public’s interest in the free circulation of intelligence. Drawing on research for a book on this subject, my presentation will return to these moments in the eighteenth and nineteenth century when copyright for news was proposed and rejected. Doing so will reveal that the history of copyright has involved periods of contraction as well as periods of expansion, and that news has often been treated differently than other kinds of writing.

Convenors: Dev Gangjee, Emily Hudson & Robert Pitkethly. Directions to the seminar room from the Porter’s Lodge. Refreshments provided, all are welcome (registration not required).