Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)

Identifier: d_1830a


Commentary on the Leipzig music publishers' agreement to ban reprints

Friedemann Kawohl

Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management, Bournemouth University, UK


Please cite as:
Kawohl, F. (2008) ‘Commentary on the Leipzig music publishers' union against piracy (1830)', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,

1. Full title

2. Abstract

3. Historical and legislative background

4. The establishment of the Music Publishers' Association

5. The decline of the Association and the long tradition of registration

6. References


1. Full title
Amended music publishers' agreement to ban reprinting


2. Abstract
The agreements made by German music publishers over the nineteenth century are a good example of publishers' initiatives to outweigh the absence of effective copyright regulations at both the national and international level. The agreement of 1830 was signed by publishers from Saxony and Austria (thus covering Leipzig and Vienna, the main centres of the German music market) and other German states. The signatories accepted the concept of a publisher's "property in the melody" - something that was implemented in a Saxon Statute of 1831 and still exists in contemporary German copyright as "starrer Melodienschutz" ("rigid protection of melodies" - UrhR § 24(2)). A priority right among German publishers for their reprints of foreign - mostly Parisian - music was established. A register of music publications (both sheet music and books on composers, music theory etc.) was introduced, in order to keep track of original publishers and lawful copyright holders. Coming after the less formal agreement of the preceding year (d_1829), the 1830 convention was a real charter aimed at setting up a permanent association. It included provisions for a board to "represent the Association" and a Secretary vested with far-reaching powers. Boards of arbitrators were duly chosen at the annual meetings. However, some publishers refused to join the Association and could therefore not be restrained from undertaking reprint editions. The copyright aspect of the Association became less important after the promulgation of the Prussian Copyright Act (d_1837a) and the Federal Assembly directive (Bundesbeschluß) of the same year (d_1837b). The Association maintained a copyright register from 1831 to 1903 and developed into a professional association which still exists as the Deutscher Musikverlegerverband (German Music Publishers' Association).


3. Historical and legislative background
Although from its very earliest days the German Confederation, in Art. 15 d of the 1815 constitution, had agreed on setting common standards to regulate reprinting, the Federal Assembly in Frankfurt did not actually achieve much in the subsequent years. Following the depression caused by the Napoleonic wars and occupation, the German economy had recovered and so had the book trade. Even after the redrawing of the borders of a number of German states in the early nineteenth century there still were many territories with autonomous jurisdictions and individual custom tariffs. Early-nineteenth-century German publishers felt a need for a free common market even more urgently than other businessmen did. Apart from specific local products (calendars, hymnals, school books), their main source of revenue were exports to other German states. Furthermore, publishers at that time realised the power of the media. They decided to set up a journal of their own, in order to influence public opinion, even thought the latter was then still confined to a small part of the population. Most journals of that period were special interest journals for scientists, poets, historians or lawyers. The first German magazine for a mass market was the Pfennig-Magazin, published since 1835 by Friedrich Brockhaus (1800-1865), one of the new generation of publishers who also doubled up as a journal editor. Within the German Confederation the publisher's profession was one of those which depended crucially on foreign business relations. Since most publishers operated as booksellers at the same time, they were reliant on their colleagues from all over the German-speaking lands both for selling their own publications and for being supplied with the titles of other publishers. Thus, it makes sense that it was a publisher, Johann Friedrich Cotta (1764-1832), who played a leading role in bringing about an alliance of the South German (Bavaria and Württemberg) and Prussian Customs Unions in 1829.


Ever since the 1815 constitution, publishers had lobbied their governments to proceed with harmonizing their reprinting regulations, but to no avail. During the 1820s the idea of private publishers' organisations started to gain ground. Many publishers were disappointed by the tergiversations of the Frankfurt Assembly, so with a newly found spirit of self-confidence they thought that they would have greater success in regulating the trade through private organisations, of which the Börsenverein der Deutschen Buchhändler, founded in 1825 by 101 publishers (six from Leipzig and 95 from other places) was the most important.[1] The Börsenverein (literally ‘exchange association') is regarded as the first professional association with members drawn from across all the larger German states. Whereas refraining from the production and sale of reprints was not a criterion for membership of the Börsenverein until 1831,[2] the Music Publishers' Association of 1829 was the first German professional association established explicitly to combat reprinting.


German music publishing had experienced a boom in the 1820s. New publishers opened up the market for arrangements and piano scores. Arrangements were often made from new operas, some of them including only the overture and/or the most popular arias and numbers. Many of these arrangements were pirated. Legal proceedings instituted by the original publishers often failed for a number of reasons:


In most jurisdictions abridged arrangements were not regarded as illegal reprints. Bilateral agreements between the states of the German Confederation did cover books but were not explicitly extended to sheet music, maps and or copper engravings.[3] Imported editions, many of which came from France, could be reprinted legally. But once, say, a Prussian reprint of a French work had come out, other Prussian reprinters could claim that they, too, had reprinted directly (and thus legally) from the French, rather than illegally from the first Prussian reprint edition.


There had apparently used to be a tacit agreement between music publishers in the German states apart from Austria.[4] But the legal constraints were unequal: Prussian publishers were banned by the Allgemeines Landrecht (d_1794a) from reprinting editions by publishers who regularly visited the Leipzig book fair. Austrian publishers were regular visitors to the Leipzig fair, but they for their part did not face any legal barriers preventing them from reprinting Prussian or Saxon editions. In general, the situation was plagued by uncertainty. The Berlin music publisher Carl Gaillard was in 1841 still complaining that "there are dozens of editions, editions issued by the most reputable publishers, so that even the most experienced music publisher does not know who is the actual proprietor of a composition, or if there is anyone at all who has a legitimate property right to it."[5] Beethoven's song Adelaide - then one of his most popular works - was published in at least 28 editions by eighteen publishers between 1797 and 1830.[6]


4. The establishment of the Music Publishers' Association
It was not easy to forge an association of publishers with quite diverse interests depending on the legislations they operated in and of their different company profiles. In general, bigger firms offering more original works then reprints were inclined to accede to the treaty, while the smaller firms were reluctant to give up the opportunity to easily and quickly meet the needs of local markets with their reprints. As a result, the smaller publishers acceded only after they had been threatened with boycott.[7]


Setting up the Association of Music Publishers Against Reprinting was a three-step process. At first, eight music publishers in 1828 jointly undersigned an open letter calling for a reprinting competitor to be boycotted. [8] Then, at the Leipzig spring fair in 1829, those publishers contractually committed themselves not to reprint each other's products, and one year later, at the 1830 Leipzig fair, they established a more formal association, which evolved later into the German Music Publishers' Association (Deutscher Musikverlegerverband) (See the official website at: In fact, the DMV referred to the 1829 contract as its founding document when celebrating its 175th anniversary in 2004.


The collective boycott threat was issued in response to two periodical collections of lieder with piano accompaniment and songs for four voices, brought out by the Braunschweig-based publishers Busse and Spehr. In the booksellers' special interest weekly journal (Wochenblatt für Buchhändler) eight of the biggest music publishers signed the following declaration:

"The German governments - although not all of the single States - have acknowledged and legally protected the property rights of the book publishers. The music publishers, however, are not afforded this level of protection. Thus they are left to their own devices, somehow or other to secure their property since the law does it not. Exactly this is the situation of the undersigned. Busse ans Spehr in Baunschweig have published the following works of music: Arion, a collection of songs with piano accompaniment and Orpheus, a collection of four-part songs most of which are ours' or other publishers' property, but not Busses' or Spehr's. Since we must regard the edition of these works as an infringement of property rights, we herewith declare that we will not offer for sale a single copy of these musical works, nor will we send them out on account of others. In addition to this, we call on our business friends who are interested in our esteem and collegial friendship, to do the same. We expect this all the more because we firmly believe that none of you is willing to take part in such an encroachment on property. Nevertheless, if some publishers were to continue to sell the Arion and Orpheus editions, we would feel compelled to adopt measures which the former could not possibly desire."[9]

One of the accused publishers reacted promptly:

"The music in Arion and Orpheus is taken from manuscripts, some of which I have paid for and others I have received from the composers for free, as well as some transcripts sent in to be reprinted by friends of the Arion and which may perhaps have been printed somewhere before (something that you can never know for sure), but this is irrelevant to the question anyway. Even in the book business, where laws and privileges apply, it is customary and permitted so sell collections of single poems: the less, therefore, can a collection of musical works be regarded as reprinting."[10]

Busse was right when he concluded that "the publication of my products does not contravene any law". We do not know whether the boycott prevented him from further reprinting. However, his partner Spehr was among the 16 publishers who agreed on the contract drawn up during the 1829 Leipzig book fair.


Several other calls for boycotts can be found in the booksellers' weekly journal in the course of 1829. The Berlin publishers, in particular, were quite active. In September 1829, it was publicly announced that "all members of the association of Berlin publishers have discontinued business dealings" with the publisher Dresch, based in Aschaffenburg and Bamberg, "who notwithstanding the treaty between Bavaria and Prussia (cf. d_1827a) is still offering reprints of Prussian publishers' titles."[11] This threat on its own apparently achieved its purpose, since just a few days later the withdrawal of the boycott was announced "as a result of a promise given by Mr. Dresch to the Berlin publishers' association that he would in future comply with the treaty between Bavaria and Prussia concerning mutual protection against reprinting and the sale of reprints."[12]


Despite the bilateral treaties which existed between Prussia and most other German states, the Berlin publishers chose not to follow a formal, diplomatic procedure. A claim lodged with the Prussian Ministry of Foreign Affairs would have gone first to the Prussian deputy at the Federal Assembly in Frankfurt, who would in his turn have passed it on to the Bavarian deputy, and he to the relevant Bavarian Ministry, and only then might it reach the local authorities in Bamberg and Aschaffenburg. The threat of a boycott seemed to lead to the desired outcome much faster, and, in this case, it worked well for the Berlin publishers. Their association even openly praised a denunciator involved in the affair:

"Grateful recognition to Mr. Haesbärt from Vogler's bookshop in Leer who has shown such a praiseworthy sense of justice and such assiduous zeal in eradicating the canker of reprinting that we feel obliged to publicly pronounce our thanks to him. By making a complaint to the local authorities, the aforesaid has contributed to the son of the notorious reprinter Mäcken from Reutlingen being penalised and forced to leave the town. Only by means of such collaboration might it be possible to control this evil, which is still bearing hard on Germany alone of all countries. May quite a few of our colleagues follow in the steps of this brave man when confronted with a similar situation."[13]

Publishers have always been experts in publicity. Not surprisingly, they knew how to do most effective harm to their colleagues by branding them as reprinters or vendors of reprints. The book trade relied on mutual trust. For example, it was still common practise to send round, without any previous request, copies of new editions to colleagues in the hope that they would either be sent back, or sold and duly paid for at the next Leipzig fair. Public accusations have been regarded as an alternative to long-winded legal action, but also as a re-enforcement. Thus, the publisher Enslin announced in the booksellers' journal that the Gdansk publisher Wedel

"has had the brazenness to reprint word for word my book on the language of flowers, now appearing in the eleventh edition,[14] leaving out only the preface, but under his own firm. This scandalous outrage [...] has prompted me to file a claim at the Ministry of the Interior. [...] As far as I know, this is the first time that a Prussian has reprinted a fellow Prussian."[15]


5. The decline of the Association and the long tradition of registration

The 1829 association was quite successful. On 12 November later that year, the accession of eight other publishers was announced.[16] By January 1830 there were 33 members (rising to 41 in February).[17] After the second charter was signed at the 1830 fair by the important Viennese publishers, more and more were urged to accede. There were 64 members in the summer of 1830,[18] but by 1845 the number of members had fallen to just 47.[19]


The first agreement was not intended to establish a permanent organisation. The second one, however, was a real charter for such an association with a board "representing all members" and a secretary invested with far-reaching powers.


The authority of the Association was, however, undermined, when in 1833 the Braunschweig publishers Meyer and Spehr and the Hamburg firm Schuberth & Niemeyer quit the association. It was a conflict of different business models that led to this split in the organisation: Schuberth & Niemeyer began to develop the mass market for piano music through the weekly journal Originalbibliothek für Pianofortespieler.[20]


After the Prussian Copyright Act of 1837 was enacted and many smaller states adopted the Prussian provisions, and after the Saxon Copyright Act of 1844 included a provision on a "property in the melody" modelled on the proposals of the Publishers' association, the need to regulate reprinting disputes outside of the ordinary jurisdiction decreased.


The most durable outcome of the 1830 agreement, however, proved to be the register. The first registration started on 15 July 1830, and from 1838 onwards a list of the new registered works with their titles and registration numbers was published twice a month in the booksellers' journal Börsenblatt des deutschen Buchhandels. Many German nineteenth-century music prints, in fact, refer to the register, often with the words: "Registered at the Association's archive" ("Eingetragen in das Vereinsarchiv"). On 20 June 1903, the last of altogether 101,140 works was registered there.


6. References

Books and articles [in alphabetical order]


Beer, Axel. Musik zwischen Komponist, Verlag und Publikum (Tutzing: Schneider, 2000) 

Gaillard, Carl. "Ueber das Eigenthum des Componisten oder des Verlegers von einer musicalischen Composition und was ein Nachdruck derselben ist", Allgemeine Preßzeitung nr 7 and 8 (1841), cols 49-53, 57-60 

Goldfriedrich Johann. Geschichte des deutschen Buchhandels, vol. 4 (Leipzig: Verlag des Börsenvereins, 1913) 

Kawohl, Friedemann. Urheberrecht der Musik in Preußen 1820-1840 (Tutzing: Schneider 2002) 

Lühning, Helga. "Adelaide und die Verleger der Beethoven-Zeit", in Augsburger Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft, ed. by Franz Krautwurst (Tutzing: Schneider, 1990), 53-85.

[1] The Börsenverein is today still a powerful organisation, running the annual Frankfurt book fair amongst other activities.

[2] Johann Goldfriedrich, Geschichte des deutschen Buchhandels, vol. 4 (Leipzig: Verlag des Börsenvereins, 1913), 186.

[3] Cf. d_1815b, d_1819, d_1827, d_1832b, and d_1837b.

[4] Beethoven editions, originally published by Hoffmeister & Küh­nel in Leipzi­g were reprinted neither from other Leipzig publishers nor from competitors like André in Offenbach or Simrock in Bonn. And vice versa the Offenbach-based publisher André issued reprints of the Vienna editions of Beethoven's Piano Concertos (Op. 15, Op. 37, Op. 58), but not of the Leipzig editions of the other two concertos, Op. 19 and Op. 73. Cf. Axel Beer, Musik zwischen Komponist, Verlag und Publikum (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 2000), 73.

[5] Carl Gaillard, "Ueber das Eigenthum des Componisten oder des Verlegers von einer musicalischen Composition und was ein Nachdruck derselben ist", Allgemeine Preßzeitung, 7 & 8 (1841), cols 49-53, 57-60 (59): "es existieren von manchen Compositionen Dutz­en­de von Aus­gaben, Ausgaben, die bei den angesehensten Handlungen erschie­nen sind, so daß selbst der erfahrenste Musikalienhändler nicht weiß, wer der wahre Ei­­gen­­­thümer einer Composition ist, oder ob überhaupt Jemand daran ein rechtmäßi­ges Eigentum hat."

[6] Helga Lühning, "Adelaide und die Verleger der Beethoven-Zeit". in Augsburger Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft, ed. by Franz Krautwurst (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1990), 53-85 (76).

[7] Peters' letter to Schlesinger.

[8] Wochenblatt für Buchhändler 8 (1828), nrs 5- 6: "Unterzeichnet: M. Artaria. Breitkopf und Här­tel. Fr. Hofmeister. C.F. Peters. H.A. Probst, Ad. Mt. Schlesinger. Schott's Söhne. N. Simrock".

[9] "Die Regierungen Deutschlands - wenn auch nicht die aller einzelnen Staaten - haben die Ei­gen­thumsrechte der Buchhändler einer genaueren Berücksichtigung gewürdigt und sie unter den Schutz der Gesetze gestellt. Die Musikhändler aber sind eines solchen Schutzes nicht teilhaftig geworden, und es bleibt daher ihnen selbst überlassen, auf irgend eine Art für sich selbst ihr Eigenthum sicher zu stellen, da es das Gesetz nicht thut. In einem solchen Fal­le befinden sich die Unterzeichneten. Es sind nämlich bei Busse und Spehr in Braunschweig folgende Musikwerke: Arion, Sammlung von Gesängen mit Begleitung des Pianoforte; und Orpheus, Sammlung vierstimmige Gesänge erschienen, welche fast nur Ge­sän­ge enthalten, die unser und anderer Musikhändler, nicht aber der Herren Busse und Spehr Eigenthum sind; da wir nun die Herausgabe obiger Werke, wodurch uns ein nicht un­be­deutender Nachtheil zugefügt wird, als einen Eingriff in unser Eigenthum betrachten müs­sen, so erklären wir hiermit, daß wir kein Exemplar dieser Musikwerke selbst debitiren, noch für Anderer Rechnung versenden wollen, und fordern auch unsere Geschäftsfreunde, denen an unserer Achtung und collegialischen Freundschaft gelegen ist, andurch auf, ein Gleiches zu thun. Wir erwarten dies um so sicherer, als wir überzeugt seyn zu können meinen, daß Kei­ner von ihnen an einer Beeinträchtigung unseres Eigenthums Antheil zu nehmen ge­son­nen sey. Sollten dennoch Einige fortfahren, den Arion und Orpheus zu debitiren, so würden wir uns, so unangenehm es uns auch wäre, gezwungen sehen, zu Maßregeln Zuflucht zu neh­men, welche denselben nicht erwünscht seyn können."

[10] Wochenblatt für Buchhändler 8 (1828), nrs 23-24.

[11] Wochenblatt für Buchhändler 8 (1829): 225.

[12] Wochenblatt für Buchhändler 8 (25 September 1829): 41.

[13] Ibid. 226. Signed by the Berlin publishers Enslin, Reimer, Nicolai, Duncker & Humblot, Dümmler, Nauck and Mittler.

[14] A copy of the anonymously published sixth edition (Berlin: Enslin, 1820) is listed in the catalogue of the Wolfenbüttel Library (HAB): Die Blumensprache oder: Bedeutung der Blumen nach orientalischer Art : ein Toilettengeschenk. A Gdansk edition by E. Bangszel [Eduard Bangssel] with a similar title, probably the alleged reprint, is listed in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek's caalogue: Die Farbensprache oder Bedeutung der Ur- und der gemischten Farben im Einzelnen, in paarweisen Zusammenstellungen und in Passbändern: Ein Seitenstueck zur Blumensprache (Danzig: Gerhard, 1827).

[15] Wochenblatt für Buchhändler 8 (1828): 229.

[16] Wochenblatt für Buchhändler 8 (1828), nrs 23-24.

[17] "Bekanntmachung des Musikalienhändlervereins",Allgemeiner Anzeiger und Nationalzeitung der Deutschen (Gotha) 40, nr 17 (18.1.1830), cols 227-228, as well as nr 58 (28.2.1830), cols 156-160. Quoted from Beer (2000), 69, f.n. 42, 43.

[18] Friedrich Hofmeister "An die Mitglieder des Vereins 31.8.1830", included as an appendix to TH [Tobias Haslinger], Der Musikalien-Nachdruck (1831), 103f.

[19] Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (1829), col. 714.

[20] See more details in Friedemann Kawohl, Urheberrecht der Musik in Preußen 1820-1840 (Tutzing: Schneider 2002), 170-192.