This is a digital archive of primary sources on copyright from the invention of the printing press (c. 1450) to the Berne Convention (1886) and beyond. The UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded the initial phase (completed in 2008) focusing on key materials from Renaissance Italy (Venice, Rome), France, the German speaking countries, Britain and the United States.

For each of the geographical zones/jurisdictions, national editors take responsibility for selecting, sourcing, transcribing, translating and commenting documents. These include privileges, statutes, judicial decisions, contracts and materials relating to legislative history, but also contemporary letters, essays, treatises and artefacts.

The national editors’ initial brief was to limit the selection to 50 core documents for Britain, Germany, France, and to 20 core documents for Italy and the US (these covering only a shorter period). For the subsequent additions of Spain and The Netherlands, again a limit of 50 core documents was set. The methodological approach is explained here. Some editors have sourced many more contextual documents which are fully catalogued, and linked to the core materials. Document selection has been scrutinised by an international advisory board.

The national editors are:
Britain: Professor Ronan Deazley, Queen's University Belfast
Dr Elena Cooper, CREATe, University of Glasgow
German speaking countries: Dr Friedemann Kawohl, Independent researcher (University of Glasgow)
France: Dr Frédéric Rideau, Université de Poitiers
Italy: Dr Joanna Kostylo, Independent researcher (University of Cambridge)
Jewish Law: Professor Neil W. Netanel, University of California at Los Angeles
Netherlands: Dr Stef van Gompel, University of Amsterdam
Portugal and Brazil:Patrícia Akester, PhD, Independent researcher (University of Cambridge) 
Dr Victor Drummond, Asociación de gestión colectiva Inter Artis Brazil
United States: Professor Oren Bracha, University of Texas
Spain: Dr José Bellido, University of Kent

Detailed information about our methodological approach may be found in the FAQ section. In 2010, Cambridge based publisher OpenBook published a companion volume to the digital archive: "Privilege and Property, Essays on the History of Copyright", containing an introductory essay by the editors: The History of Copyright History.

The original database design and website were coded by Karin Hoehne (Cologne, Germany). Redesigns were implemented in 2012 and in 2015. The functionality now provides an OAI/PMH data interface delivering record data as Dublin Core. Please refer to the FAQ section for information about accessing the interface.

Following the official launch of the project at Stationers’ Hall in London on 19 March 2008, we promised that the URLs for the documents in the archive would be permanent (permalinks). Therefore document links to the first version of this database (pre-2012) will continue to be redirected to the correct documents.

We continue to add new materials. Primary sources from Spain were published in 2012, and the Netherlands followed in 2015. Jewish law sources, edited by Neil Netanel, were published in 2016. In 2018, Elena Cooper joined Ronan Deazley as co-editor of the British Sources, adding further documents illustrating distinct aspects of the history of copyright concerning the visual arts in the late nineteenth century (in the main, 1869-1900). In 2019, Portuguese and Brazilian sources were added by Patrícia Akester and Victor Drummond.

Please cite this resource as:

Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,
Professor Lionel Bently, University of Cambridge
Professor Martin Kretschmer, CREATe, University of Glasgow

General Editors, Primary Sources on Copyright

The website should be compatible with any modern internet browser since we follow standard HTML conventions without usage of HTML5. We might switch to HTML5 integration in the future. Updating older browsers is recommended.

Please report technical issues or errors to Peter Bennett (peter.bennett[at]