Commentary on:
Copyright Acts for the German Empire regarding works of art, photography, and designs (1876)

Back | Commentary info | Commentary
Printer friendly version
Creative Commons License
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)

Identifier: d_1876


Commentary on Copyright Acts for the German Empire regarding works of art, photography, and designs, Berlin (1876)

Friedemann Kawohl

School of Finance & Law, Bournemouth University, UK


Please cite as:
Kawohl, F. (2008) ‘Commentary on the German Copyright Acts 1876', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,


1. Full title

2. Abstract

3. Early discussions on protection for photography before the Frankfurt draft of 1864

4. Initiatives for the protection of photographs within the context of the Copyright Act of 1870

5. References


1. Full title

Statute concerning author's rights to works of the fine arts, of 9 January 1876. Statute concerning the protection of photographs against unlicensed reproduction, of 10 January 1876. Statute concerning author's rights to designs and models, of 11 January 1876.


2. Abstract

The three copyright statutes of 9, 10 and 11 January 1876 were thought to complete the areas that had been left out in the Copyright Act of 1870, which had only covered literary, musical, and dramatic works and printed images. According to the 1870 Act copyright in graphic works had only been conceded for "geographical, topographical, scientific, architectural, technical, and suchlike drawings and illustrations, which, as far as their principal function is concerned, cannot be considered to be works of art." (§. 43).[1] No copyright applied when illustrations (Abbildungen) were added "from one literary work [...] to another, provided that the text of the latter is the main part of the work, and that the illustrations are just there to help clarify etc. the text" (§44).


The driving force for leaving out these issues in 1870 was the Prussian Ministry of Commerce, which sought to maintain the absence of any protection for industrial designs[2] and to defend the freedom to use works of art for industrial products, as had been conceded in §. 9 of the Prussian Copyright Act of 1837. The commentary will focus on early discussions on copyright for photographs.


3. Early discussions on protection for photography before the Frankfurt draft of 1864

It was in 1839 that the Berlin-based lithographer Louis Friedrich Sachse (1798-1877) imported the first photographic cameras from France.[3] Early daguerreotypes provided a profitable additional source of business for portrait painters. In 1846, there were just 18 photographic ateliers in all of Berlin, in 1853 it was 46, and by 1860 the number had gone up to 94.[4] Photography, however, remained quite a low-key professional and commercial activity until the old techniques of Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851) (inventor of the daguerreotype process) and William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) (inventor of the calotype or talbotype process for multiple copies) were superseded by the cheaper collodion process, announced in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer (1813-1857), who, unlike Talbot, did not patent his invention, a fact that contributed to his technique becoming the most widely adopted until the end of the nineteenth century.


Societies of photographers were founded in Jena (1859), in Vienna (1861), and in 1863 the Photographischer Verein zu Berlin was set up which would later lobby intensively for photographers' copyright. A Berlin exhibition of 1865 attracted 13,000 visitors and resulted in the sale of some 2,200 catalogues.[5] In 1854, the periodical Photographisches Journal was set up. The earliest record of proposals for the legal protection of photography in the German lands is to be found in the protocols of the discussions on the Bavarian Copyright Act of 1840, where it was, however, turned down, in order to "avoid getting lost in the labyrinth of casuistry".[6]  


When in 1857 a draft for a copyright statute for the German Confederation was published, photography was only regarded as a means of illegal reproduction, not as a technique which produced original works qualifying for copyright protection. The draft was commissioned by the Saxon government and the German Publishers' and Booksellers' Association (Börsenverein), and was edited by Ludwig Eduard Heydemann (1805-1874), Chairman of the Prussian Society of Copyright Experts, the Halle law professor Paul Hinschius (1835-1898) and the Prussian judge Ludwig Peter Moritz von Rönne (1804-1891). Under §. 41 photography was listed alongside a number of other techniques[7] which could be used to illegally reproduce "drawings and paintings". And it was not included, at least not explicitly, under §. 57, where protection was provided for authorised reproductions of works of art by means of copper and steel engraving, woodcut, and lithography.[8]


When, however, seven years later, in May 1864, the Commission of the Federal Assembly of the German Confederation presented their draft - the so-called ‘Frankfurt draft' - [9] the situation had changed. True, as in the Börsenverein draft of 1857, photography was still regarded as a means to illegally copy works of art, i.e. drawings and paintings (§. 26), and was, again, not explicitly included in the protection of reproductions of a work of art, "that can themselves be regarded as works of art and are produced by a different technique to that used for the original, such as in the case of a copper engraving based on a painting".[10] But now a specific provision with regard to photographs was included:

"§. 28. The prohibitions of §§. 26 and 27 also apply when the work to be protected was produced by photography or other similar means, provided that it can be regarded as a work of art"[11]

From the minutes of the preceding sessions of the Commission we find that the Bavarian deputy Ludwig Weis (1813-1880) had insisted on the distinction between photographs that were "independent achievements, [which] in order to be produced required true knowledge and artistic taste on the part of the photographer, e.g. with regard to the arrangement of the subjects photographed, the use of the right lighting effects etc., and often also considerable expense"[12] and pure "photographic reproductions of photographs", which "are in contrast carried out in a completely mechanical [handwerksmäßig] manner and therefore cannot qualify for protection".[13] Similarly, the Baden deputy Julius Jolly (1823-1891) wanted to protect photographs that could be regarded as "works of art" (Kunstwerke) but to exclude those that were "merely fanciful industrial products" (bloß kunstreiche Industrieerzeugnisse).


Some members of the Commission - among them the Saxon deputy August Otto Krug (1805-1867) - wanted to restrict protection to photographs of "moving objects" only, since "it is mainly in the capturing [Fixierung] of such objects that the photograph's art reveals itself";[14] or, as in the case of the Württemberg deputy Köller, to "truly original photographs" (eigentliche Originalphotographien), i.e. photographs taken from nature. The Hanoverian deputy Georg Heinrich Leonhard Schow (1810-1869) wanted to exclude photographs taken from "black, graphical images", i.e. drawings and copper prints, since in these cases, as Schow put it, "what the photographer is doing is a purely mechanical activity".[15]


The Frankfurt draft of 1864 agreed in principle on a protection of photographs, albeit to a lesser degree than in the U.K., where the Fine Arts Copyright of 1862 protected, in s.1, the "Author ... of every original Painting, Drawing and Photograph".[16] The draft was not to be enacted until 1876 - not, though, because of differences in opinion on what kinds of photographs qualified for protection, but, rather, for general political reasons, as Elmar Wadle has pointed out:

"The conflict on the future economic system [of Germany] that had been sparked by the Franco-Prussian commercial treaty of 1862, the Schleswig-Holstein crisis, the German-Danish War, and, finally, the increasing tension between Prussia and Austria after they emerged victorious from the latter campaign, all paralysed the German Confederation and its attempts to achieve legal uniformity in further fields."[17]


4. Initiatives for the protection of photographs within the context of the Copyright Act of 1870

The drafts of 1857 had been masterminded by the publishers belonging to the Börsenverein, and the wording of the 1864 draft was dominated by academics from the different member-states of the Confederation. It was not before the 1860s that a German photographer began to lobby successfully for the interests of his profession.


Hermann Wilhelm Vogel (1834-1898) was a Berlin chemist and mineralogist who became interested in photography as a scientific technique. He began publishing microphotographs in 1862 and was appointed Professor of Photochemistry at the Berlin Industrial Academy (Gewerbeakademie) in 1864. On 20 November 1863, he was among the founders of the above-mentioned Photographischer Verein zu Berlin. In three letters of 14 January 1867, to the Prussian Ministries of Justice, Commerce and Cultural Affairs respectively, he urged for

"a law which would give photographs the same protection against reprinting as is granted to copper engravings, lithographs and related products"[18]

Vogel cited the case of Heinrich Graf, a photographer who had travelled to the battlefields of the German-Danish War of 1864 and composed an album of photographs that had subsequently been illegally reproduced. The absence of adequate protection, thus ran Vogel's argument, had resulted in there being no photographs available from the recent Austro-Prussian War of 1866, but only hundreds of lithographs and woodcuts.[19] The elaborate photograph of the victorious Prussian army marching through Berlin had been copied just four days later, and an alleged 20,000 unlicensed copies of a portrait of King Wilhelm had been sold to the detriment of the charity which had was meant to receive the proceeds of sales of the original photograph.


Vogel explained that photography deserved to be protected, since a great deal of skill was required to take a photograph that met either aesthetic standards, when the object was a person, a landscape or a building, or scientific standards in photographing, say, astronomical phenomena. 


An important argument brought forward by Vogel were the international commitments entered into by Prussia following the treaty with the U.K. in 1846.[20] The treaty had not applied the principal of national treatment or formal reciprocity, but required, rather, harmonisation always at the highest level of protection. Thus, Prussia was in fact obliged to protect British photographers to the degree of protection guaranteed to them by the Fine Arts Copyright Act of 1862, where for the first time in the U.K. photography had been included as protected subject matter.[21] Vogel also pointed to the Bavarian Copyright Act of 1865[22] where photography had been protected under Art. 26. As a result of Vogel's petition the Prussian Minister of Cultural Affairs Heinrich von Mühler (1813-1874) commissioned an expert report on the matter.[23]


 A draft of 1868, written mainly by the jurist Friedrich Julius Kühns (1830-1869),[24] had included a low-level protection of photographs, and a second draft taking into account the opinions of some experts was presented by Otto Dambach (1831-1899).[25] However, when these drafts were discussed in the Reichstag of the North German Confederation, no agreement could be obtained on the protection to be granted to works of the visual arts. Thus the Reichstag decided in May 1870 to delete the chapter on the protection of visual arts from the draft and to leave it to be dealt with by later regulations.


5. References

Books and articles [in alphabetical order]

Cornwall, J.E., "Die Geschichte der Photographie in Berlin - 1839 bis 1900", Mitteilungen der Vereins für die Geschichte Berlins 1 (1976). Available online at:


Dambach, O., "Über den neuesten Entwurf eines Gesetzes für den Norddeutschen Bund, betreffend das Urheberrecht an Schriftwerken etc.", Zeitschrift für Gesetzgebung und Rechtspflege in Preußen 4 (1870): 223. Available online at:


Kühns, F., Der Rechtsschutz an Werken der bildenden Künste. Eine Denkschrift im Namen der deutschen Kunstgenossenschaft (Berlin: J. Guttentag, 1861). Available online at:


Ricke, S., Entwicklung des rechtlichen Schutzes von Fotografien in Deutschland (Münster: LIT Verlag, 1998)

Wadle, E., Geistiges Eigentum, vol. 2 (Munich: Beck, 2003)

[1] See image page 11 of d_1870.

[2] Elmar Wadle, Geistiges Eigentum, vol. 2 (Munich: Beck, 2003), 346.

[3] Quoted in Stefan Ricke, Entwicklung des rechtlichen Schutzes von Fotografien in Deutschland (Münster: LIT Verlag, 1998), 15.

[4] James E. Cornwall, "Die Geschichte der Photographie in Berlin - 1839 bis 1900",  Mitteilungen der Vereins für die Geschichte Berlins 1 (1976). Available online at:


[5] Wadle, (1996), 352.

[6] "sich in das Labyrinth der Kasuistik zu verlieren". Protocol of 5 March 1840. In Verhandlungen der Kammer der Abgeordneten des Königreichs Bayern im Jahre 1840 (Munich 1840), quoted in Wadle, (1996), 345.

[7] "Kupferstich, Stahlstich, Holzschnitt, Litographie, Farbendruck [...] Daguerrotypie, Photographie"

[8] Wadle, (1996), 346.

[9] The Frankfurt Draft "Entwurf eines Gesetzes zum Schutze des Urheberrechte an literarischen Erzeugnissen und Werken der Kunst" is included in Jahrbücher der Deutschen Rechtswissenschaft und Gesetzgebung 10 (1864), 248ff. Available online at:


[10] "Selbst als ein Werk der Kunst zu betrachten und durch ein anderes als das bei dem Original angenommene Kunstverfahren angefertigt worden ist, wie z.B. ein Kupferstich nach einem Gemälde" §. 27 of the Fankfurt Draft, ibid.

[11] Frankfurt Draft §. 28: "Die Verbote der §§. 26 und 27 finden auch Anwendung, wenn das zu schützende Werk durch Photographie oder andere ähnliche Mittel hergestellt wurde, vorausgesetzt, dass dasselbe als Werk der Kunst zu betrachten ist." , ibid.

[12] "selbständige Leistungen; sie erforderten zu ihrer Herstellung eigenes Verständnis, künstlerischen Geschmack, z.B. in der Gruppierung, Benutzung der richtigen Beleuchtungseffecte u. dergl., oft auch bedeutende Kosten", Protocol of the sessions of the Commission, quoted in Wadle (1996), 349.

[13] "dagegen ganz handwerksmäßig betrieben werden, auf einen Schutz also keinen Anspruch machen". Protocol of the sessions of the Commission, ibid., 349.

[14] "hauptsächlich in der Fixierung der Gegenstände zeige sich die Kunst des Photographen". Protocol of the session of the commission, quoted in Wadle (1996) 349

[15] "da dann die Thätigkeit des Photographen in der That eine rein mechanische ist." Protocol of the sessions of the Commission, ibid., 350.

[16] Fine Arts Copyright Act , see uk_1862 and Ronan Deazley's commentary.

[17] "Die durch den preußisch-französischen Handelsvertrag (1862) eingeleitete Auseinandersetzung um die künftige Ordnung der Wirtschaft, dann die Schleswig-Holstein-Krise, der deutsch-dänische Krieg und schließlich der sich verschärfende Konflikt der im Krieg siegreichen Bundesgenossen Preußen und Österreich lähmten den Deutschen Bund und seine Initiative zur Herstellung weiterer Segmente der Rechtseinheit". Wadle (1996), 351f.

[18] "ein Gesetz... welches den Photographien den gleichen Schutz gegen Nachdruck gewährt, wie den Kupferstichen, Lithographien und verwandten Erzeugnissen." Quoted from the archives in Wadle (1996), 353.

[19] Ricke (1998), 81

[20] See d_1846 p.3 (543).

[21] See details in Ronan Deazley's commentary for uk_1862.

[22] See d_1865.

[23] Ricke (1998), 82.

[24] Kühns had published in 1861 a book on the subject written from the artists' perspective: Der Rechtsschutz an Werken der bildenden Künste. Eine Denkschrift im Namen der deutschen Kunstgenossenschaft (Berlin: J. Guttentag, 1861). Available online at:


On Kühns, see the biographical article in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, vol. 17 (Leipzig 1883). Available online at:


[25] Otto Dambach, "Über den neuesten Entwurf eines Gesetzes für den Norddeutschen Bund, betreffend das Urheberrecht an Schriftwerken etc.", Zeitschrift für Gesetzgebung und Rechtspflege in Preußen 4 (1870): 223. Available online at:



Our Partners

Copyright statement

You may copy and distribute the translations and commentaries in this resource, or parts of such translations and commentaries, in any medium, for non-commercial purposes as long as the authorship of the commentaries and translations is acknowledged, and you indicate the source as Bently & Kretschmer (eds), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900) (

You may not publish these documents for any commercial purposes, including charging a fee for providing access to these documents via a network. This licence does not affect your statutory rights of fair dealing.

Although the original documents in this database are in the public domain, we are unable to grant you the right to reproduce or duplicate some of these documents in so far as the images or scans are protected by copyright or we have only been able to reproduce them here by giving contractual undertakings. For the status of any particular images, please consult the information relating to copyright in the bibliographic records.

Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge, 10 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DZ, UK