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

By Catherine Seville | Go to book overview

2
PETITIONS AND COPYRIGHT

Almost 500 petitions against the copyright bills were presented in the House of Commons between 1838 and 1840, amounting to over 30,000 signatures. Only thirty-seven petitions were received in favour of the changes, representing 341 signatures in total, a figure in the order of only a hundredth of the popular opposition. Before this discrepancy can be understood, an understanding of the petitioning process, and of these particular petitions and petitioners, is essential.


PETITIONING–PARLIAMENTARY HISTORY
AND BACKGROUND

The first edition of Erskine May notes that petitioning is the means 'by which the people are brought into communication with the Parliament', and acknowledges it as 'a fundamental principle of the constitution'.1 Certainly the right of any aggrieved person to present a petition to parliament was of long standing. At first petitions sought redress for private grievances, and they were received and tried in a way which was more judicial than legislative; but, as parliament lost much of its remedial jurisdiction to the courts of equity, petitions took on the nature of private bills, and thus assumed a more legislative character.

Presentation of petitions differed in the two Houses. Few petitions were addressed to the House of Lords, and there was no comprehensive system for recording their contents. However,

____________________
1
Thomas Erskine May, A treatise upon the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of parliament (1844), p. 300. On petitions generally see ch. XIX. Blackstone does not address the subject of petitioning (except for private bills): see Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the laws of England (Oxford, 1765–70).

-33-

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