Intellectual Property and Victorian Inquiry: The Royal Commissions on Patent (1864) and Copyright (1878)

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Claims of crisis and chaos in intellectual property law followed by calls for reform, or even abolition, are nothing new. Patent and copyright were attacked, yet ultimately expanded, in nineteenth-century Britain. ‘It is probable enough that the patent laws will be abolished ere long’, wrote the Economist in 1869, while others argued that reform and expansion of patents laws were necessary to compete with the growing economic power of the United States. In the late 1870s, high-ranking members of the Board of Trade proposed replacing copyright protection with a limited system of government-administered royalties. At the same time, authors called for longer and broader protection of their works. Faced with confusion and conflicting opinions about these important, but ill-understood, areas of law, the government resorted to the classic Victorian approach for dealing with such knotty problems: royal commissions.

Intellectual Property and Victorian Inquiry: The Royal Commission on Patent (1864) and Copyright (1878) will explore the people, procedures, and politics behind these in-depth inquiries into intellectual property reform in the latter half of the nineteenth century, placing them within their historical and ideological context. In examining copyright and patent law from the ground up, commission members were necessarily forced to grapple with fundamental questions about the nature of property itself. Commissioners’ views on the nature and purpose of copyright and patent influenced their views on far the rights should extend—in time, geography, and scope. Close analysis of the Commissions provides insight into our own debates about the nature of intellectual property and provide a model for future attempts at law reform.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherHart Publishing
Number of pages256
ISBN (Electronic)9781509914036, 9781509914043
ISBN (Print)9781509914029
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2019


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