Commentary on:
Venetian Decree on Author-Printer Relations (1545)

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: i _1545


Commentary on the Venetian Decree of 1545 regulating author/printer relations

Joanna Kostylo

University of Cambridge, UK


Please cite as:
Kostylo, J. (2008) 'Commentary on the Venetian decree of 1545 regarding author/printer relations', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,


1. Full title

2. Abstract

3. The Decree of 1545 and censorship

5. Authors and printers: defining authorial interests against those of printers and publishers

6. Authors' attitudes to their texts

7. References

1. Full title
The Statute regulating author-printer relations and censorial revision of books by the Commissioners of the University of Padua (Refformatori dello Studio di Padova), 7 February 1545 (1544 m. v.)


2. Abstract
This Decree is the first statutory measure in Venice dealing with authorship and it is often celebrated as the first European legislative act to recognise the author's 'copyright'. In reality, however, it was one of a series of remedial decrees designed to regulate the printing trade and, rather than constituting an assertion of author's rights as such, it illustrates the abuses of the book trade. While setting out censorship rules it does, though, incidentally give more recognition to the author's personality. The notion of the author as an artistic personality is for the first time legally defined and offset against the financial interests of the printers. The commentary discusses the contemporary status of the author vis-à-vis printers and publishers in the context of the emerging censorship regime.

3. The Decree of 1545 and censorship
On 7 February 1545, the Venetian Council of Ten issued a law prohibiting anyone to print or sell books without having first obtained the consent of the author of the work. This is traditionally viewed as a watershed in the history of authorship, as "the first public law in Europe designed specifically to protect authors."[1] It preceded the analogous legislations that enshrined the author's right to publish his work in France (f_1547) and England (uk_1643). For Giulio Mandich, who translated and celebrated this statute, this was "the legislative evolution in the field of copyrights."[2]


Certainly, the Decree of 1545 represents an important stage in the evolution of authorial rights. But its significance should not be overstated, for it was not intended to promote the notion of authorship per se. Issued at a time of general crisis and dissatisfaction with the printing trade, it is perhaps best understood in the context of the earlier provisions designed to regulate the business of printing and publishing in this period.


The widespread practice of 'harvesting' monopolies by a small group of powerful publishers led to unfair competition and widespread abuse of the privilege system. The anti-monopoly act of 1517, ruling that future privileges were to be granted only for "new books and works", proved inefficient as printers quickly learned how to evade the regulation (see i_1517). It was easy to make a few corrections, minor changes and additions to the text and then claim that a work was 'new'. This practice of making arbitrary alterations to the text by printers prompted the government to take a clear and decisive stand on the question of the originality and novelty of the printed works in a series of subsequent regulations (1534, 1537). This legislative process, intended to remedy the widespread abuse of the privilege system, culminated in the Statute of 1545.


In response to continuing abuse, the Council of Ten decided to revise and introduce more stringent administrative rules for obtaining new privileges. It was declared that henceforth no book was to be printed unless a written permission of the author or his heirs had been submitted to the commission from the University of Padua (Riformatori dello Studio di Padova) in order to obtain a license. Books printed without such permission were to be confiscated and burned, and the infringing printers were to be fined a ducat and imprisoned one month for each author and book injured.[3]


Such phrasing may suggest that some very elementary principles of the author's right over the reproduction of his own creation had been recognized with this Decree. For it implies that authors have the right to exercise a certain degree of control over the publication of their works and that they may even choose to keep their work unpublished. This provision was designed to protect authors from having their work printed and sold without their permission and to give them the opportunity to protect those rights through licensing and privileges. However, this acknowledgment of an author's interest in controlling the publication of his texts is not necessarily the same as the acknowledgment of a property right in the sense of an economic interest in an alienable commodity. Such concept of the author as a legitimate owner would develop only in the eighteenth century. Yet some kind of author's right to his work was involved in the 1545 legislation. Indeed, this may be the first time that the notion of the author as an artistic personality was legally defined against the financial interests of the printers. Clearly, for the first time some recognition is given to the author's personality.


Most of the early privileges were granted for the printing of ancient authors and classics or for the Latin grammars, law books, catechisms and almanacs, in other words, for categories of books in which no particular living author was involved.[4] Thus the main purpose of privilege awards at the time was to protect the financial investments of the printer. Only when the market became saturated with copies of these works, and the printers began to compete for new publishable material, did the role of living authors become more important to the book-trade. With the proliferation of illegal reprints of old works and debates over the 'originality' and 'newness' of publishable material, the attention shifted from the printer to the author and to the question of authorial control over text.


However, it is important to realize that this gradual movement towards the recognition of authorial interests took place in a specific social and political context of the emergence of a censorial regime. Soon after the invention of printing, the Church and most states in Italy recognized the potential danger of the press and had begun to impose a close surveillance on printed matter (see i_1487 and i_1527). These measures became even more stringent by 1545, on the eve of the Counter-Reformation, as hopes of reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants faded and the Church became harsher in its repression of books suspected of spreading heretical doctrine. Thus while the Decree of 1545 was designed to deal with abuses of the privilege system, the new law may have also been introduced in partial response to growing concern over the spread of libelous or heretical writings. In fact, the provision that no work be licensed for publication without the written consent of the author might have been designed to stop the authors of books which were deemed subversive or heretical from publishing their works anonymously. Only two years earlier, in 1543, one of the most influential texts of the Italian Reformation, the Beneficio di Cristo, was published anonymously in Venice, followed by other famous radical titles published "without the author's name" (senza nome dell'Autore).[5] The Venetian Decree of 1545 simply made it possible for the authorities to find and persecute offending writers, in anticipation of the new censorship rules introduced by the Council of Trent on 8 April 1546, forbidding the sale or possession of anonymous books. Whereas until then censorship had remained in the hands of the Council of Ten, the 1545 statute ruled that henceforth the Riformatori dello Studio di Padova, a commission from the University of Padua (which was under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Venice), would handle the censorship of books and serve as the official censorial body to which publishers were obliged to submit requests for approval of the material they wished to print. Similarly, the establishment of the Guild of Printers and Booksellers in 1549 was a further measure to standardize and regulate licensing procedures in order to secure more efficient censorship "against the authors and printers of scandalous and heretical books" (see i_1549; and uk_1643 for the analogous situation in Britain).


Only in this specific historical context can the Decree of 1545 be interpreted properly. Indeed, the recognition of the author's personality in this statute might be considered incidental, since the impetus for this decree had come mainly from the desire to censor the authors rather than reaffirm their authorial rights. Nevertheless, the incidental nature of this recognition might lend some support to Foucault's hypothesis on the role of legal regulations and censorial regimes in shaping the concept of contemporary authorship.[6]

5. Authors and printers: defining authorial interests against those of printers and publishers

It might be that the unprecedented defense of the author's interests in the Decree of 1545 stemmed from the deteriorating status of writers vis-à-vis printers. In a commercial centre of printing such as Venice, the printer and publisher often had a much greater role than the author of a text. In the first years of printing, authors and editors were still involved in the process of publishing their works (see i_1486). But with the expansion of the book market this practice became unusual, as professional producers took over the trade. The author had to be wealthy and influential to make his own investment in the production and marketing of an edition, and he needed to be determined enough to become involved in detailed negotiations about the quality of type and paper and other practicalities of the material production of books.


In general, authorial control was not an easy matter in the contemporary culture of printing and reprinting still based on the older system of producing books that did not value the original author or artist over and above everyone else who was involved in the publication of a work. The fate of a famous prophecy book Pronosticatione by a German astrologer Johannes von Lichtenberg (d.1503) can give us an insight into how the contemporary business of printing and reprinting placed so little importance on the person who had actually composed the text. Lichtenberg's book was extremely successful, appearing in Latin, German, French, Dutch, and English, as well as in fourteen Italian editions between 1450 and 1530. Thus when, in 1511, a young boy hawking books to passers-by approached a Venetian senator "Sebastian conestàbile" on the Rialto Bridge with Lichtenberg's Pronosticatione, the senator bought the text and arranged for it to be printed, claiming that "it was a most excellent and most pleasing but unknown work." The text was published by Niccolò and Domenico dal Jesus, with 11 August 1511 indicated as the date of publication on the title-page. The original Latin text had been translated into Italian and many of the woodcuts from the German editio princeps were copied. The remarkable colophon in a later edition published by Niccolò and Domenico openly admits that the publisher had copied from an earlier edition: "Printed in Venice in the year 1525 on the 13th of September. Taken from another [edition] printed by "maesto Pietro Francioso" in Modena in 1492 on the 14th of April." Niccolò's colophon testifies that this type of copying was widespread, explicit and unproblematic.[7]


Printers and publishers rarely took care to ask authors' permission to publish their works and often did not own the manuscript they published. Also, authors were often not identified; and even when they were, their names might be hidden away in a dedicatory letter or at the end of a book, on some concluding verses or in a colophon. On some occasions the printers were willing to acknowledge their source and give credit to an author for the prestige attached to his name which could hold some commercial advantage. Using the name of a distinguished local figure could help a publisher to sell well. In 1470, an editor of Latin texts, Giovanni Andrea Bussi, claimed that his prefaces allowed printers to put a higher price on their books.[8]


Not all printers were diligent enough to ensure that a text was well edited. Complaints concerning the quality of works were heard at the time on regular basis. In 1515, for example, Giovanni Aurelio Augurello (1441-1524), before having a Latin poem on alchemy printed, wanted to make sure "that the printers cannot spoil it".[9] Initially, these complaints concerned mostly the workmanship and the low quality of books, "up to now printed very incorrectly on poor paper and bad type", as Lazaro de' Soardi complained in his petition for a privilege in 1494.[10] In 1537, the Venetian senators themselves lamented that "nearly all the books currently being printed in Venice do not hold the ink of whoever wants to write in them" and sought to remedy this "damnable and disgraceful practice" by requiring printers to produce books with paper that did not blot.[11] Eventually, however, more attention would be given to the content and correctness of the text itself.


Before the 1540s, ecclesiastical authorities, and to some extent secular ones too, made some attempts to control the content of printed works by screening them before publication. In Venice, the first law which introduced pre-publication censorship was the Decree of 1516, which appointed Andrea Navagero for the task of officially revising books to ensure their literary quality. Though this literary censorship was primarily concerned with the quality of printed books to secure commercially successful correct editions, it signaled the growing concern with not just the appearance but also the intellectual content of the work (see i_1516). In a similar way, the imitation of the format, type and ornament of imprints began to be perceived as reprehensible at a much earlier stage than the appropriation of the actual content or the text itself.


This shift towards the intangible aspect of a work and the need to protect it was also visible in the author-centered privilege grants. Initially, in applying for a privilege, authors did not necessarily display aesthetic or moral responsibility for their works but rather business acumen. Their rationale was not so different from that of a printer or a publisher whose primary concern was to protect his financial investment. However, with the proliferation of corrupted and pirated editions, the relationship between printers and authors changed and became tense as authors, editors and translators began to express their interest in the correctness, integrity and authenticity of their texts. Thus in 1526, for example, the Venetian physician Alvise Cinzio de' Fabrizi requested a privilege so that his book on the origin of proverbs should not be "perverted, corrupted and torn to pieces" by printers, "as such people do all day long, because no literate person can look at, let alone read, any of the works they bring out."[12] Such concerns could also be heard in the preamble to the 1545 Decree:

"The audacity and greed for gain of some printers in this city of ours has grown to such an extent that they permit themselves to print what they like and name the authors without their knowledge, indeed completely against their wishes. A complaint on this matter has been made to the heads of this council, with a very strong request for action to put a stop to this."

It seems that some disgruntled authors resolved to complain to the Council of Ten against the offending printers. Indeed, as Giacomo Moro has suggested, it was none other than the famous Venetian poet Pietro Bembo (1470-1547) who made this complaint. Bembo, who was then an influential cardinal at the Roman Curia, had recently (in 1544) had to put up with the unauthorized publication of forty-two letters, including a number of youthful love letters, and of an anthology of his verses.[13] This hypothesis seems highly plausible, since Bembo was particularly aware of the damage that could be done to an author by the unauthorized and inaccurate impression of his works.


In the world of business, craftsmanship and cheap mass production, writers were often left at the mercy of printers and other producers who could easily manipulate and spoil the original text through the editorial process and material production. This led some conscientious authors to take a personal interest in controlling the process of publication in order to ensure that the integrity of the form and content of their work had not been compromised. Erasmus, Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) and Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533), all were particularly keen on overseeing the printing of their works and were involved in the correction of their proofs.


At an age when authors were developing a sense of individual responsibility for their works and beginning to understand that they should have the right to control the publication of their texts, some writers may have actually been reluctant to engage the services of printers if they felt that their work was in danger of being manipulated and spoilt. They often preferred to adhere to the traditional medieval practice of 'scribal publication', which allowed writers to retain some control over their texts (by copying their works by hand and circulating them only among the trusted circle of friends, editors, and patrons).[14] In the chain of scribal production, however, the text was left open to manipulation. It was therefore more advantageous to control the text by relying actually on the 'authority' of printing which secured greater stability of the text. This apparent contradiction that 'scribal publication' could be both more and less secure than print led to a variety of hybrid practices.


Such ideas may have been in the mind of Pietro Bembo himself, when he turned to the Venetian printer Giovanni Antonio Nicolini of Sabbio, to publish his collection of poems in 1530.[15] A learned vernacular philologist and poet, Bembo aspired to establish his own poetic standards and decided to publish a collection of his Italian lyric verses through the medium of print. By entrusting his text to the placet, Bembo could establish and diffuse a text that was authoritative and would remain stable. And to ensure that the selection of his poems, their ordering, and their accuracy corresponded to his authorial intentions Bembo exercised strict control over the printing process by proofreading the first printout. He controlled the accuracy of the compositors' work by having each sheet of quarto proofread as it was set in type daily.


Bembo had already demonstrated his interest in controlling his production in 1501 when applying for a privilege to print his edition of Petrarch's and Dante's manuscripts. The petition was actually made by his younger brother Carlo Bembo who emphasized that Pietro's edition was new and correct, written "in the poet's own hand" and prepared from authentic manuscripts which he had discovered and which since they were "the most correct" (correctissimi) he wished to have published. The Senate granted him protection for ten years.[16]


The privilege protection was not always effective. On 10 January 1526, Bembo complained in his letter to an editor and compiler, Giambattista Ramusio (1485-1557):

"You know how much care and diligence and effort it took me to set in type and print my work on the vernacular language (Prose della lingua volgare) in Venice, and how much assiduity of my agent [Cola Bruno], who stayed there for the entire six months to accomplish this task. All this diligence was used to ensure that the work was printed correctly, being in the nature of the work that every little error would make a big difference. And now you have to find out that some wicked men, yet in Venice itself, and in disrespect of the privilege granted me by the Consiglio dei Pregadi [the Venetian Senate], as soon as my print came out, they had the nerve to reprint it clandestinely and sell it instead of mine. About this audacity really I would not care so much if they had printed my work with diligence and correctness; but out of desire to earn much and spend little, they only cared to make it look like mine at the first glance, but in the substance of correctness and significance of the lyrics they made so many mistakes that I begin to almost regret that I had ever composed it."[17]

Bembo's example shows that contemporary authors-editors could seek protection of their authorial interests in the authoritative printed editions protected by privileges. Another famous contemporary case of concern over correctness and integrity of the text was that of Aldus Manutius (1450-1515), who was a printer and scholar at the same time. Contrary to the received perception of Aldus as a businessman who introduced inexpensive books for mass circulation, Martin Lowry has emphasized the essential importance of Manutius for defining scholarly interests against commerce and giving the printed text the academic and social respectability previously enjoyed by the manuscript.[18] Aldus was well aware of the risk of garbled counterfeited versions of his editions appearing in print, by which his professional and personal reputation might be damaged. This consideration found expression in his decrying of Lyonnais copyists of 1503 and his numerous petitions submitted to the Venetian Senate between 1496 and 1502 (see i_1503; i_1502).


Applying for printing privileges provided one formal mechanism by which authors could retain control over the text and define their interests against those of the publishers. A privilege put the author who obtained one simply in a stronger position in dealing with other publishers. Hence, the note at the end of the 1530 edition of Bembo's Rime asserting that the author was protected by a privilege in the same way as the printer. Another example is the papal privilege granted on 27 March 1516 to Ludovico Ariosto for his Orlando furioso, specifying that the book should be issued correct by the author's care and diligence, and that the profit, if any, should be enjoyed by him rather than by others.[19]


While the privilege system was virtually monopolized by the printers and booksellers, authors could also seek contractual protection under the common law. In order to have their works published as they wanted, and to keep control themselves over the printing and sales of their work, they would have had to come to a variety of contractual arrangement with the printers. (See i_ ?)


Sometimes, the threat of financial losses inflicted by illegal reprints would prompt publishers to ally themselves with authors against counterfeiters. On 14 March 1506, Agostino Vespucci, the patron and financier of Machiavelli's Decennale primo informed the author about the piracies of his text: "Having found out with difficulty that a certain Andrea da Pistoia had reprinted your compendium, I rushed promptly to the place where it was printed and denounced him to the commandatore Thomas Balducci." Vespucci further complained about the bad quality of the forgery, printed "in Giunti's usual style (alla giuntesca) with little space and the letters ever so small..." and reassured Machiavelli that "having brought to the attention [of Balducci] all the errors, I entered into a great legal dispute with the Council of Eight in mine and your name." In his dispute with the Council, Vespucci emphasized not only his own financial loss but above all the need to help and encourage the authors (aiutare chi compone et dar loro animo). He secured a ban on the distribution of these copies until Machiavelli returned to Florence and could decide for himself whether or not to authorize the sale of these reprints.[20]

6. Authors' attitudes to their texts
Whether authors in Italy could effectively use the system of public laws, printing privileges or any other contractual agreement available at the time to protect their authorial rights is debatable. But there is no doubt that appeal to these legal instruments by the authors themselves indicates the emerging conceptions of what an author was, of what an author's relationship to his work entailed, and of how legal regulations could be used to promote and enforce these ideas.


With the Renaissance apotheosis of individual genius, originality and individuality, a new sense of the author or artist as the creator and master of his work began to emerge. Such views of artistic creativity were derived in part from Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and the Neoplatonic circles of Padua. Painters and other artists also contributed to this view. Vasari's Lives of the Artists (1550) celebrating Michelangelo, Raphael and other famous artists would do much to reassert this emerging understanding of the artist as the sole originator of his work.[21] These new constructions of an artistic identity collided with the continuing importance of collective (corporate) identity in this period and the long-standing assumptions about the legitimacy of copying in the contemporary business of publishing. It could be argued that it was in response to this tradition of publishing that freely and unscrupulously absorbed and reproduced books, paying little attention to the originating authors of these texts or the quality of reproductions that the contemporary authors developed a new sense of artistic responsibility for their text and the conviction that work born of an individual's personal talent belonged to that individual.


That the authors themselves began to understand the nature of the rights they had in their work is shown in a dialogue On the Dedication of Books (Venice, 1590) by Giovanni Fratta who refers to the author as the "owner of the books" (padron de'libri).[22] Fratta criticized the contemporary custom of dedicating and donating books to rich patrons and emphasized that the author remains the absolute masters of what he produces and has the right of the fundamental choice over the destiny of his work:

"Books are dedicated in order to honour the person, on whose support they rely, with this prestige, without, however, the author giving away his ownership (padronia) of these [books], so that [this person] cannot correct, print, and reprint them as he wishes without asking, with reason, the permission of their donor."[23]

Similarly, when questioning "whether it would be appropriate for a printer or a bookseller to dispose of someone else's work without knowledge of its rightful author", for Fratta, "the conclusion would be no".[24]


Fratta's Dialogue provides a striking cultural manifestation of the concept of a book as property that began to develop long before it was recognized as the legal principle in the eighteenth century. It evolved from the basic recognition that the gift of a manuscript does not necessarily carry with it the right to publish. As early as 1531, a distinguished senator and lawyer, Andrea Alciati (1490-1550), complained against the illegal publication of his Emblems, whose manuscript he had sent as a gift to the German scholar Konrad Peutinger (1465-1547). On 28 February 1531, Heinrich Steiner of Augsburg put the Emblems in print. Greatly displeased by the corruption and poor workmanship of Steyner edition, and not being able to suppress it, Alciati proceeded to publish his own revised edition of the book, published by a famous Parisian printer, Christian Wechel, in 1534, in which he condemned the unauthorized publication.[25]


As a lawyer, Alciati might well have understood that giving away a manuscript did not imply abandonment of one's rights to it. The control over the original manuscript and thus over its eventual communication to the world became intimately connected to the concept of a book as property and the practice of paying authors for their manuscripts. As soon as the new art of printing established itself on a commercial footing, one begins to find evidence of the publishers paying authors for their manuscripts. In 1500, for example, the Brescian publisher Bernardino Misinta explained in his petition for a privilege that the manuscript of Panfilo Sassi's Sonetti e capitoli had cost him a great deal to purchase and prepare for printing.[26] In 1492, a Venetian physician Giovanni Domenico Negro explained that he had invested "lots of effort and expense" to acquire the two codices he wishes to have printed.[27] The practice of paying writers for their manuscripts became more widespread towards the end of the sixteenth century. In 1597, Luc'Antonio Giunti 'the Younger' entered into a contract with Prospero Farinacci for the publication of his Practice and theory of criminal law (Praxis et theorica criminalis), for which the author would receive the large sum of 270 scudi.[28] A printer could also hire a manuscript from an author. When the nobleman Girolamo Dotto handed over certain commentaries in his father-in-law's hand on works by Aristotle to the printer Grazioso Percaccino in June 1575, the latter agreed to pay the former 150 gold scudi and complete the printing of the works within four years. If he failed to meet this deadline, Dotto could reclaim his manuscripts and have them printed at the others' expense. In any case, Percaccino was obliged to return the manuscript to the author together with six copies of each printed volume.[29] Another way in which a writer could be recompensed by a publisher was by a payment similar to a modern royalty. This was the case of Lionardo Salviati in 1581 when he was offered 2 carlini for each copy of his edition of Bocaccio's Decameron sold by the publishers Filippo and Iacopo (Jacques) Giunti.


These examples illustrate that contemporary authors felt entitled to claim some 'property rights' in their manuscripts. Whether this feeling extended beyond the material realm of ink and paper is a question which cannot be answered easily considering the extant documentary evidence. Furthermore, it appears that their interest in controlling the publication of their manuscripts was not to reassert their ownership but rather to safeguard their literary reputation. And yet these artistic interests were never fully divorced from the commercial ones. We can never be sure whether Bembo's reassurance that he would not have been so much upset about the unauthorized reprints of his work had the forgers reproduced it correctly, was authentic enough. When another prominent artist of the time, Titian, complained against thieves and those who damage the honour of the original 'author', he expressed his concern that counterfeiters might reduce the market value of his own work and allowed himself to exploit the publicity offered by counterfeiters to advertise his own authentic and good quality paintings. In a supplication for a privilege for "a design of Paradise", a painting known as Gloria, in 1567, he complained:

"Certain men with little skill in art, in order to avoid hard work and out of greed for money, have adopted this profession [of printmaking], that is defrauding of honour the original author (del primo autore) of said prints by making them worse, stealing the labour of others, in addition to swindling the public with forgeries of little value."[30]

Acting as both the author and publisher of his works, allowed himself ...In a similar way, Aldus Manutius was self-fashioning and promoting his own authorial and commercial interests in his ferocious warnings against Lyonnais counterfeiters. Their protests provide important evidence that contemporary authors developed some sense of personal rights in their work, extending to the right to control the first publication, the right to be acknowledged as the author, and the right to be assured that the integrity of the form and content of the work would be preserved. They also show that contemporary writers exercised a degree of control over their creative effort. They were able to condemn illegal publications of their work, have it correctly reprinted with a warning against the spurious editions, and file complaints with the authorities. This does not necessarily mean that this concept of personal rights (droit moral) was the same as the acknowledgment of a property right in the sense of an economic interest in an alienable commodity. Nor that the contemporary legal regime could promote or enforce such ideas. Yet it marked a significant stage in the development which led to the rise of the modern author. As Mark Rose argues, "the author was recognized as an individual with an interest in the status of his name and reputation before it was recognized as a fully empowered figure in the marketplace."[31]

6. References

Brown, H. F., The Venetian Printing Press 1469-1800: An Historical Study Based upon Documents for the Most Part Hitherto Unpublished (London: John C. Nimmo, 1891)

Feather, J., "From Rights in Copies to Copyright: The Recognition of Author's Rights in English Law and Practice in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century", in M. Woodmansee and P. Jaszi (eds.), The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1994), 191-209

Mandich, G., "Venetian patents (1450-1550)", Journal of the Patent Office Society 30, nr 3 (1948), 166-224

May, C., "The Venetian Moment: New Technologies, Legal Innovation and the Institutional Origins of Intellectual Property", Prometheus 20, nr 2 (2002), 159-179

Richardson, B., "From scribal publication to print publication: Pietro Bembo's 'Rime', 1529-1535", Modern Language Review 95 (2000), 684-95

___. Print Culture in Renaissance Italy: the editor and the vernacular text, 1470-1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)

___. Printing, writers and readers in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)

Rose, M., Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright (London: Harvard University Press, 1993)

[1] Mark Rose, Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright (London: Harvard University Press, 1993), 20. According to Rose, the first English affirmation of authorial interests seems to be a parliamentary edict of 29 January 1642, ibid., 22.

[2] Giulio Mandich, "Venetian patents (1450-1550)", Journal of the Patent Office Society 30/3 (1948): 166-224 (176); Christopher May, "The Venetian Moment: New Technologies, Legal Innovation and the Institutional Origins of Intellectual Property", Prometheus 20, nr 2 (2002): 159-179 (173).

[3] ASV, CX, Parti Comuni, reg. 16, 7 February 1544. The text of the decree is in Horatio Fortini Brown, The Venetian Printing Press 1469-1800: An Historical Study Based upon Documents for the Most Part Hitherto Unpublished (London: John C. Nimmo, 1891), 211; translated in Brian Richardson, Printing, writers and readers in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 73-74.

[4] For 596 books estimated to be published between 1469-1480 there were 130 classical texts, 76 Latin grammars and abridged editions of classics, 121 theological works, including 28 biblical and patristic, 38 doctrinal, 39 sermons and 23 liturgical, 100 lawbooks and 71 scientific (including 13 aristotelian) and 95 vernacular editions of literature and poetry. Cf. Neri Pozza, "L'editoria Veneziana da Giovanni da Spira ad Aldo Manuzio", La stampa degli incunaboli nel Veneto, Saggi e note (Verona: tipografia Editoriale Aldo Manuzio", 1983), 9-35 (12).

[5] In 1545, for example, the Sommaria della Scrittura were published in Naples, followed by the Alfabeto cristiano by Valdés and Tragedia del Libero Arbitrio by Francesco Negri published in 1546. Pasquale Lopez, Sul libro a stampa e le origini della censura Ecclesiastica (Napoli: Luigi Regina, 1972), 97-98. On Beneficio di Cristo published by a Florentine exile Antonio Brucioli who set up a printing press in Venice together with his brother see, Andrea Del Col, "Il controllo della stampa a Venezia e i processi di Antonio Brucioli, 1548-1559", Critica storica 17 (1980), 457-510. On Beneficio and other radical writings which taught the doctrines of election and predestination, and salvation by faith alone, see Carlo Ginzburg and Adriano Prosperi, Giochi di pazienza: Un seminario sul "Beneficio di Cristo" (Turin: Einaudi, 1975); and the introduction to Il beneficio di Cristo, ed. by Salvadore Caponetto and published in Corpus Reformatorum Italicorum (Chicago: Newberry Library, 1972), 135-204.

[6] Michel Foucault, "What is an author?", in D. Lodge (ed.), Modern Criticism and Theory: a reader, 2nd ed. revised and expanded by Nigel Wood (Harlow: Longman, 2000).

[7] Cf. Lisa Pon, Raphael, Dürer, and Marcantonio Raimondi: Copying and the Italian Renaissance Print (New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press, 2004), 57.

[8] Brian Richardson, Print Culture in Renaissance Italy: the editor and the vernacular text, 1470-1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 6.

[9] Masetti Zannini, Stampatori e librai a Roma nella seconda meta del Cinquecento: documenti inediti (Roma: Fratelli Palombi, 1980), 141.

[10] Fulin, 111, nr 22.

[11] Giuseppe Fumagalli, Lexicon typographicum Italiae: dictionnaire géographique d'Italie (Florence, 1905), 496-7. Cf. Christopher L.C.E. Witcombe, Copyright in the Renaissance: prints and the privilegio in sixteenth-century Venice and Rome (Boston, MA: Brill, 2004), 31.

[12] "come è di costume, depravato, corrotto et dilacerato, come che tali fanno tutto il giorno, che opera alcuna per loro non esce fuore, che si possa da litterata persona guardare, non che leggere." ASV, Senato Terra, 5 October 1526, Fulin, 207, nr 253.

[13] Richardson, Printing, writers and readers, 74; and Paolo Trovato, Con ogni diligenza corretto: la stampa e le revisioni editoriali dei testi letterari italiani, 1470-1570 (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1991) 36-7, who quotes Giacomo Moro's suggestion about the intervention of Bembo.

[14] Harold Love argues for such a ‘free' conception of publication, in his highly influential study, Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-century England (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), p. 36, defining the process of publication in social rather than technological terms as ‘any kind of activity' by which a text is transmitted ‘from a private realm of creativity to a public realm of consumption.' The corollary of Love's argument is that it is possible for the same text to be published in more than one medium: printed, scribal, or oral, as long as the initiating agent (and not necessarily the author) knowingly surrenders control over the future use of the text.

[15] Brian Richardson, "From scribal publication to print publication: Pietro Bembo's Rime, 1529-1535", Modern Language Review 95 (2000): 684-95. As Richardson argues, the decision to publish his Rime in this way was a particularly bold one. Until then, probably only one Italian poet had taken it upon himself to organise a complete printed collection of his own lyric poems: Gian Giorgio Trissino whose Rime appeared in 1529 edition in Vicenza at his own expense.

[16] ASV, NC, reg. 15, c. 40r, 26 June 1501. Fulin, 146, nr 115.

[17] "Voi sapete con quanta cura e diligenza e fatica ho fatto imprimere e stampare in Venezia la mia opera della lingua volgare e con quanta assiduità del mio proposito, che vi è stato a questo fine sei mesi continui. Questa diligenza, tutta vi usai acciò che l'opera si stampasse corretta, essendo ella di qualità che ogni picciolo errore vi fag ran momento. Hora dovete ancor sapere come alcuni tristi, pure in Venezia, in faccia del privilegio concessomi dal Consiglio dei Pregadi, a pena uscita la mia stampa, ne hanno stampata un'altra nascosamente, e la vendevano in luogo della mia. Della quale audacia io di vero mi curerei poco, se l'havessero stampata con diligenza e corretta; ma, per voglia di guadagnare assai e spender poco, hanno solamente atteso a farla in vista simile alla mia, ma nel sugo della correzione e importanza dei sentimenti v'hanno fatto moltissimi errori, tale che a me comincia quasi ad increscere e a pentirmi di haverla fatta e composta giammai." Cf. Claudia Di Filippo Bareggi, Il mestiere di scrivere: lavoro intellettuale e mercato librario a Venezia nel Cinquecento (Roma : Bulzoni, 1988), 36.

[18] Martin Lowry, The world of Aldus Manutius: business and scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Oxford: Blackwell, 1979).

[19] See the title page of the first edition (Ferrara: Giovanni Mazocco, 1516), fol. a2.

[20] "Trovando io et con fatica, che uno Andrea da Pistoia havea facto ristampare el vostro compendio, cursim et properanter andai ad el luogo ubi imprimebantur, menando etiam meco Thoamso Balducci comandatore; non uscii di quivi che ne havemo una, che non vi starò a dire la ribalda cosa che le sono: al tutto alla giuntesca, sanza spatio, e quinternucci piccin piccini, sanza bianco dinanzi o dietro, lettera caduca, socrrecta in più luoghi, come in questa metterò una notula. Et notativi dentro tutti gli errori, entrai alli 8 con fare querela grande, et meo et tuo nominee." Bareggi, 35.

[21] Joseph Leo Koerner, Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 34-51. See also the commentary for i_1474 for further discussion of this question.

[22] Della dedicatione de' libri, Con la Correction dell'Abuso, in questa materia introdotto. Dialoghi del Sig. Giovanni Fratta, Nobile Veronese. Con Privilegio. In Venetia, Appresso Giorgio Angelieri, 1599, Dv (168). For the text of the entire work see i_1590

[23] Ibid., B3r (162r) - B3v - B4r (163r)

[24] Ibid., A3r (158r)

[25] Evelyn May Albright, "Notes on the Status of Literary Property, 1500-1545", Modern Philology 17/8 (Dec., 1919): 439-455 (446-7).

[26] Fulin, 141, nr 102.

[27] Fulin, 102, nr 5.

[28] Tenenti, "Luc'Antonio Giunti", 1059; Del Re, "Prospero Farinacci", 183-4, 201-4.

[29] Marciani, "Editori", 538-9.

[30] Trans. by David Rosand and Michelangelo Murano, Titian and the Venetian Woodcut (Washington, D.C., 1976), 26 n. 48.

[31] Rose, 18. John Feather, "Publishers and Politicians: The Remaking of the Law of Copyright in Britain 1775-1842", Part II: "The rights of Authors", Publishing History 25 (1989): 45-72. For the discussion of this issue in the French and English contexts see f_1586 and uk_1667.

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