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Pütter: The Reprinting of Books (1774)

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Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)

Identifier: d_1774


J.S. Pütter: The Reprinting of Books (1774)

Friedemann Kawohl

School of Finance & Law, Bournemouth University, UK


Please cite as:
Kawohl, F. (2008) ‘Commentary on J.S. Pütter: The Reprinting of Books (1774), in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,

1. Full title

2. Abstract

3. Biographical outline and theoretical background

4. References


1. Full title

J.S. Pütter, The Reprinting of Books Examined in the Light of True Principles of Law (Göttingen, 1774)


2. Abstract

Johann Stephans Pütter's work is the most comprehensive and detailed of all German eighteenth-century treatises on the reprinting of books.[1] In Pütter's view an intellectual property is originally vested in the author for "works which a scholar has newly written and which are now to appear in print for the first time"[2]. On the basis of this property the author can either himself publish his books[3] or sell or give away his "property in the manuscript".[4] The publisher "thus avails himself, if he should afterwards have the work printed, not just of a general, natural liberty, but, rather, of a duly acquired right which is proper to him."[5] Copyright should be perpetual for as long as the original publishing house continues to exist. Pütter was a leading law scholar of his time, and thus his book was often cited even throughout the nineteenth century. Numerous references to earlier writers also mean that his book is an important secondary source on the history of copyright. The commentary provides an outline of Pütter's life.


3. Biographical outline and theoretical background

Johann Stephan Pütter, born in Iserlohn on 25 June, 1725, died on 12 August, 1807, entered university at the age of 13. Among his teachers in Marburg, Halle and Jena were Christian Wolff (mathematics and metaphysics), Johann Gottlieb Heineccius (Roman Law, Law of Proceedings, Feudal Law and Constitutional Law) and the theologian Siegmund Jakob Baumgarten, a brother of Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, who introduced the term "aesthetic" into modern philosophical debate.


Pütter's doctoral thesis on the Law of Proceedings before the Imperial Supreme Court (Reichskammergericht) in Wetzlar was approved in 1744. In 1746, he was appointed a professor at Göttingen University, where he lectured until 1805. The university had been founded just seven years earlier by King George II of England in his capacity as Elector of Hanover. Soon it became one of the biggest universities in Germany. The Law Faculty, in particular, attracted many young noblemen from other German states. Pütter's lectures were attended by audiences which were often up to two hundred strong, among them a good part of the later elite of the German states' centralised bureaucracies, e.g. the Prussian chancellor Hardenberg, the Prussian minister Stein, the founder of Berlin University Wilhelm von Humboldt, the Austrian chancellor Metternich and the academic lawyers Gustav von Hugo (1764-1844), Karl Friedrich Eichhorn (1781 - 1854) and Karl von Kamptz (1769 - 1849).


In accordance with the enlightenment spirit of Göttingen University, Pütter abandoned the Wolffian approach of strictly deducing legal rules from principles in favour of a more practical approach. Thus, he does not try to anchor the ban of reprinting within the systems of Roman law or canon law, since "it soon becomes evident to everyone that the printing of books is an invention of far later times than those to which both of the aforesaid codes of laws date, which codes can therefore decide cases of reprinting just as little as they can settle cases concerning the banking business or the use of gunpowder, and which, consequently, can serve at most to justify analogously correct legal principles".[6]


Pütter's main theoretical writings focussed on the legitimacy of sovereignty rights. In Pütter's view the monarch's sovereignty could not be based on a sum of single traditional titles, but rather had to be related to the objective and rational aim of the state. Early eighteenth-century theorists had identified the common welfare as the superior aim of the state. In Pütter's view order and security were even more important, but he never did abandon his belief in the sovereign's obligation to strive directly for the common welfare, as liberal thinkers like Adam Smith had already done.


The pursuit of these aims justifies an all-encompassing competence of the state. However, since sovereignty rights are classified by over-arching aims rather than by subject matter or by persons as subjects of the rights, Pütter draws a clear distinction between the aims of different types of government in the German federal system. Both the Empire and its confederate states are sovereign in certain respects, and thus both are real states within the constitution (Elementa iuris publici Germanici, Göttingen 1754). In his book on reprinting he thus legitimated printing privileges provided by both the Empire and the confederate states. When he died at the age of eighty-two, Pütter had published 126 books.


Twenty years before his treatise on reprinting was published, Pütter himself as an author was confronted with an un-sanctioned reprint of his Elementa iuris publici Germanici. It was "a strange and almost unique example of book reprinting", as he puts it in his autobiography. "Before the print run of the legal edition had been completed I heard that a reprint edition was already on its way in Frankfurt. So I did not fail to rebuke this unauthorised reprinting at the end of the preface to the legal edition of my book. This did not, however, stop my good reprinter from also reproducing my preface dated Göttingen, 17 April, 1754, merely leaving out the final phrase which I had directed against his reprinting enterprise".[7]


4. References

Books and articles [in alphabetical order]

Primary sources

Pütter. J. S., Selbstbiographie (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1798)

____., Elementa iuris publici Germanici, (Göttingen: Bossiegel, 1754) the pirate edition (Frankfurt 1754)

Secondary sources

Berg, G., "Die Selbstverlagsidee bei deutschen Autoren im 18. Jahrhundert", Archiv für Geschichte des Buchwesens 6 (1966): 1371-1396

Füssel S., Studien zur Verlagsgeschichte und zur Verlegertypologie der Goethezeit (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1999)

Neusüß, W., Gesunde Vernunft und Natur der Sache (Berlin: Duncke & Humblot 1970)

Schwab, D., "Das Geistige Eigentum zwischen Naturrecht und Positivierung. Zugleich einige Amerkungen zu Pütters Schrift gegen den Büchernachdruck", in L. Pahlow and J. Eisfeld (eds), Grundlagen und Grundfragen des geistigen Eigentums (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 35-49

Vogel, M., "Deutsche Urheber- und Verlagsgeschichte", Archiv für Geschichte des Buchwesens 19 (1978): 1-180

[1] Wolfgang Neusüß, Gesunde Vernunft und Natur der Sache (Berlin: Duncke & Humblot 1970), 88, has pointed to inconsistencies within Pütter's manifold streams of argumentation. Contrary to his general approach, Pütter (p.40) legitimises reprinting "if it does not derogate the publisher" ("wenn er dem Verleger gar keinen Abbruch thut") and claims (p.86) that "a pirate edition should really be excused in those cases where the original was printed in too expensive a format and a much cheaper reprint is arranged for those buyers who care more about the content than about the exterior splendour of a book ("Nachdruck eher zu entschuldigen, wenn das Original gar zu kostbar gedruckt ist, und für solche Käufer, die mehr auf den Inhalt, als auf den äusserlichen Glanz sehen, ein ungleich wohlfeilerer Nachdruck veranstaltet wird.").

[2] "Werken, die ein Gelehrter erst neu ausgearbeitet hat, und die jetzt das erstemal in Druck kommen sollen. Diese sind gleich ursprünglich unstreitig ein wahres Eigenthum ihres Verfassers" (p. 25)

[3] "Thus an author can be his own publisher - either by publicly announcing his intention to do so, or by arranging for a bookseller to allow his name to be used, even though the publication is carried out at the author's expense" ("so kann ein Schriftsteller sein eigner Verleger seyn, es sei nun, daß er sich öffentlich dazu bekennt, oder daß ein Buchhändler seinen Namen dazu hergibt, und doch in der Tat auf des Schriftstellers Rechnung den Verlag besorget", p. 26). German eighteenth-century authors used different forms of self-publication for their works. Wieland and Lessing, for example, acted as their own publishers. Then there was also a co-operative society which under the name Buchhandlung der Gelehrten (Publishing House for Scholars) brought out 732 books between 1781 and 1784. The retail price was split as follows: 66.66 % for the author, 28 % for the bookseller, and 8.33 % for the cooperative, after the initially envisaged division of revenues of 27 % for the bookseller and 6.33 % for the cooperative had turned out to be insufficient. Cf. Stephan Füssel, Studien zur Verlagsgeschichte und zur Verlegertypologie der Goethezeit (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1999) and Gunter Berg, "Die Selbstverlagsidee bei deutschen Autoren im 18. Jahrhundert", Archiv für Geschichte des Buchwesens 6 (1966): 1371-1396.

[4] "das Eigenthum des Manuscriptes" (p. 27).

[5] "bedient sich also, wenn er das Werk hernach drucken läßt, nicht bloß einer allgemeinen natürlichen Freyheit, sondern eines ihm eigenthümlich wohlerworbenen Rechts" (p. 27).

[6] "... fällt es bald jedem in die Augen, daß die Buchdruckerey eine Erfindung weit späterer Zeiten ist, als von welchen jene beyde Gesetzbücher herrühren, die daher so wenig Fälle von Büchernachdruck, als vom Wechselgeschäffte oder vom Gebrauche des Schießpulvers bestimmen können, und daher höchstens dazu dienen, um ... analogisch richtige Rechtssätze dadurch zu begründen" (p.3). Cf. Martin Vogel, "Deutsche Urheber- und Verlagsgeschichte", Archiv für Geschichte des Buchwesens 19 (1978): 1-180.

[7] "An diesem Buche (Elementa iuris publici germanici, Göttingen 1754) erlebte ich das erstemal ein sonderbares Beispiel vom Büchernachdruck, das beynahe einzig in seiner Art war.- Ehe der rechtmässige Abdruck in Göttingen noch vollendet war, erfuhr ich, daß zu Frankfurt schon ein Nachdruck davon im Werke sey. Ich unterließ also nicht schon am Ende der Vorrede zur rechtmäßigen Auflage meines Buches diesen unerlaubten Nachdruck zu rügen. Mein Nachdrucker ließ sich aber dadurch nicht abhalten, auch meine Vorrede mit dem Datum Göttingen den 17.April 1754, nur mit Weglasung der gegen seinen Nachdruck gerichteten Schlußklausel, mit abdrucken zu lassen." Johann Stephan Pütter, Selbstbiographie (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1798) i, 271.


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