Literary Copyright Reform in Early Victorian England: The Framing of the 1842 Copyright Act

By Catherine Seville | Go to book overview

4
CRITICS IN THE BOOK TRADE I: PRINT
WORKERS AND THEIR ALLIES

Early petitions against Talfourd's bill came almost entirely from members of the printing trades, indicating that modifications to copyright were regarded as a threat to trade interests. Yet most, although not all, were presented by radical MPs, suggesting a wider political framework. In order to position the copyright agitation in its correct context, it is necessary to understand the structures which governed these trades in the 1830s, and also the effect that these had on petitioning practice.

Printers were an important group. In relation to the specific issue of copyright, the volume and nature of their petitions was such as to make a real impact. However, it should be remembered that printers no longer enjoyed the state-supported power of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They now worked as paid agents of the publishers, who had come to wield the real economic power in this period.1 As will be seen in the next chapter, the once feared and revered booksellers of Paternoster Row and the Chapter Coffee House, who had been able to divide up the trade between them, found their gentlemen's agreements ignored by newcomers anxious to exploit the rapidly expanding market for books of all sorts: a new matrix of power was forming.

Nevertheless, the strength and coordination of print trade organisations ensured that they were able to exert considerable and noisy pressure on parliament during the years of copyright debate. They were, however, indebted to the radical MPs, at the very least for the actual presentation of their petitions. What has not been recognised previously is that a significant number of the

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1
Feather notes of this period that 'except for the two universities, no major publisher was his own printer': John Feather, A history of British publishing (1988), p. 132.

-68-

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