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

By Catherine Seville | Go to book overview

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INTRODUCTION

The subject of this book is Serjeant Talfourd's back-bench attempt to reform the law of copyright, an attempt which eventually produced the Copyright Act of 1842. The idea of reform is potent in the history of England in the nineteenth century. It would be impossible to write a general history of the period without giving an account of the major constitutional reforms concerned with popular representation, which eventually transformed parliament. Yet other contemporary legislative reforms are arguably as striking, both in terms of their volume, and in terms of the changes which resulted. The many attempts to improve the law and its mechanisms make this period a significant one for legal history. In the decade following the 1832 Reform Act, approaches to government in the widest sense were re-examined and transformed. This process had protean qualities: striking though the direction and velocity of the immediate changes could be, they often represented only the first phase of lengthy trajectories.

Nevertheless, it would be foolhardy (and unduly Whiggish) to regard these changes as inevitable; they were the product of many complex and conflicting forces. Although nineteenth-century legislators did create a battery of significant reforms, the antecedents and characteristics of individual measures varied considerably. To take the example central to this book, the changes to copyright law which resulted from the 1842 Copyright Act were not overtly typical of a reforming brief. However, the efforts to promote the various copyright measures (which began in 1836) were profoundly affected by the prevailing mood of reform, and the methods and mechanisms associated with it. Talfourd had originally envisaged a thoroughgoing consolidation of all aspects of copyright, an aim which might have been thought consistent with general reforming objectives. Such an assumption ignores the

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