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Austrian Statutes on Censorship and Printing (1785)

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Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)

Identifier: d_1781


Austrian Statutes on Censorship and Printing, Vienna (1781)

Friedemann Kawohl

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

Please cite as:
Kawohl, F. (2008) ‘Commentary on the Austrian Statutes on Censorship and Printing (1781)', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,


1. Full title

2. Abstract

3. The coronation ceremony of Joseph II and the 'burial' of the Frankfurt book fair in 1764

4. Joseph II and the promotion of the Austrian book industry

5. The allegorical engraving Works of Darkness as an illustration of the conflict between Austrian and North German publishers

6. Imperial privilege for Aloysius Blumauer's Travesty of Virgil's Aeneid

7. References


1. Full title

Joseph II of Habsburg's Statutes on Censorship and Printing for the Habsburg Lands as published in the Compendium of all Statutes and Provisions for the Royal and Imperial Hereditary Lands Enacted under the Government of Emperor Joseph II, 18 vols (Vienna: 1785-90)


2. Abstract

The collection of Austrian statutes on censorship and printing covers the important Decree of 13 January 1781 (p. 542 f.), which protected native authors and publishers, "whereas, on the other hand, the reprinting of approved foreign-published books is to be granted freely to every book printer as a commercial operation, even if exactly the same work happens to have already been (re-) published by one or several native book printers." The Decree of 1781 was issued to reinforce a decree of 1775 and remained in force until the Directive for Reciprocal Copyright Protection within the German Confederation of 1837 (d_1837b) was implemented in Austria.


The commentary focusses on the coincidence of the coronation ceremony of Joseph II and the retreat of the Leipzig publishers from the Frankfurt book fair in 1764; and also considers an allegorical engraving entitled Works of Darkness, which serves to illustrate the conflict between Austrian and North German publishers.

3. The coronation ceremony of Joseph II and the 'burial' of the Frankfurt book fair in 1764

On 27 March 1764, the twenty-two-year-old Habsburg prince Joseph was elected as King of the Romans by the nine Prince-Electors in Frankfurt. The pompous coronation ceremony based on a century-old ritual was held on 3 April in the Frankfurt cathedral. A detailed and vivid account of this event was given by Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) in his autobiography Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (1st volume published in 1811). Joseph's coronation as King of the Romans paved the way for his succession to the Imperial throne in 1765. Both titles, however, were of limited importance since the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) had proved that Prussia in terms of military and political power was more than a match for Austria. As an outcome of the war, Prussia kept hold of the former Austrian province Silesia, whilst Frederick the Great, in a secret supplementary clause to the Peace Treaty of Hubertusburg (signed 15 February 1763), had promised to vote for Joseph in the upcoming election.



It was in that very month of April in 1764 that a whole era of bookselling based on a barter system and centred around the Frankfurt fair came to its end. As the Leipzig publisher Philipp Erasmus Reich put it in a letter of 12 May:

"During the last fair I and several friends have bidden farewell to this town and thus, so to speak, buried the book fair there, [...] The Imperial Books Commissioner von Scheben, dean of the Frankfurt cathedral, was alarmed by this news and he asked me, as he had done on several occasions in the past, for a discussion behind closed doors, to find out about the causes of our grievance and how it could be relieved. He did not appear to be content with my answer, even though he knew full well that ‘for fifty years the Books Commission has been exerting despotic control; that a kind of trading in privileges has emerged; and that cases of dispute have not been dealt with showing the necessary fairness.' Besides that I suggested that in Saxony now the state of learning was flourishing and at a higher level than in any other place, and that our factories, printing offices and everything else related with these were all in a much better condition than in other parts of the empire"[1]

Against the backdrop of the pompous coronation ceremony, the withdrawal of the Leipzig publishers was, in Mark Lehmstedt's words, an "unmistakable affront against the Imperial officials, represented by the Imperial Books Commission".[2] The Books Commissioner Bishop Franz Anton Xaver, Reichsfreiherr von Scheben (1711-1765) sent a report to Vienna, suggesting either a drastic response or "the complete closure of the Books Commission".[3] The book trade at the Frankfurt fair had been based on the system of exchange by barter, and Reich was one of the first publishers to refuse barter deals and to insist on being paid in cash for his books.


The Leipzig publishers' withdrawal from Frankfurt caused the decline of the Frankfurt fair and consolidated the importance of the Leipzig fair. From then on publishers and booksellers from the northern parts of Germany would normally pay just one annual visit to the Leipzig fair. Most of their colleagues from Switzerland, Austria, Württemberg and Baden, where reprints of editions from other German lands were tolerated, henceforth visited neither Leipzig nor Frankfurt. In his standard reference work on the history of the German book trade up to the early twentieth century, the Leipzig historian Johann Goldfriedrich (1870-1945)[4] sardonically enumerated the fifteen visitors of the 1776 Frankfurt fair who came from outside the city, amongst them "three paper manufacturers, an Offenbach music trader, an Offenbach almanac trader, two Augsburg picture and map dealers, of which one was also trading in haberdashery" and a Leipzig publisher "who had been banned from using the title of bookseller by the Leipzig Books Commission as early as 1762."[5]


As Reich pointed out in his conversation with von Scheben, the Frankfurt trade under Imperial surveillance was hampered by a non-transparent and unequal privilege system which failed to provide effective means to ban reprints. A few months later in 1764, Reich proposed a new Saxon privileging system which would protect not just residents of Saxony, but also every visitor of the Leipzig fair for every product they traded there.[6] The following year he was in charge of establishing an anti-reprinting cartel known as the German Publishers' Association (Buchhandlungsgesellschaft -see d_1765), signed by 52 publishers from Saxony, Prussia, Hanover, Göttingen, Hamburg and Copenhagen. And just a few years later we find him lobbying for the strict reprinting regulations that were eventually laid down in the Saxon Statute of 1773.


The withdrawal of the Leipzig publishers from the Frankfurt fair, and even more so from the control of the Imperial Books Commission, exacerbated the conflict between the Leipzig and North German publishers and their colleagues from the rest of the Empire. Subsequent Saxonian copyright legislation consolidated the independence of a local authority in trade and industrial policy.


The factual loss of the Imperial superintendence on books and the isolation of the Habsburg lands from the flourishing publishing centres in the Protestant north also contributed to excluding Austria from the intellectual and literary boom of the late eighteenth century in Germany. Joseph's coronation as King of the Romans in 1764 - sixteen years before he could set his own reform agenda for the Austrian hereditary lands upon the death of Maria Theresia - thus coincided with a landmark decision for the German book trade that can be regarded as a step towards the fall of the Empire in 1806.


4. Joseph II and the promotion of the Austrian book industry

Joseph's reorganisation of the censorship rules (see Section 6 below) in 1781 was mainly intended to restrict the power of the Catholic Church on cultural and educational affairs. However, the new censorship practice did also have an impact on the sheer volume of the book industry. In 1786, pre-publication censorship was replaced by a post-publication procedure, and Joseph II handed out many printing licenses. Thus it was the printing trade that benefited immensely from Joseph's ideas of freedom of the press. Ursula Kohlmaier has outlined the impact of this legislation as follows:

"The changes to the censorship provisions also led to an increase in the number of firms attending the Leipzig fair. In total, that is including both Austria and the German states, 235 firms came to the fair between 1778 and 1784, whereas in 1785 alone it was suddenly 325. In 1784, for example, just one firm came from Prague, but in 1785 it was as many as seven. Vienna was represented by sixteen firms in 1785 and so was second only to Berlin with thirty-nine. The export figures for the Austrian book trade also testify to the success of Joseph II's initiatives for the promotion of publishing in his lands: in 1773, the export revenues for Austrian publications amounted to 135,000 thaler, whereas in 1793 exports were up to 3,260,000 thaler."[7]

Unlicensed reprinting, however, contributed to a good part to the success of the Austrian book industry.


5. The allegorical engraving Works of Darkness as an illustration of the conflict between Austrian and North German publishers

This allegorical engraving (d_1775), which portrays unauthorised reprinters and original publishers respectively as highwaymen and their victims, reflects the high public interest in the reprinting debate of the late eighteenth-century. The copper plate is a work by Daniel Chodowiecki (1726-1801), one of the most famous graphic artists and book illustrators of the time.


As the Goddess of Justice is shown asleep and oblivious of what is happening, the etching brands book piracy as a travesty of all that she stands for. However, the biblical allusion of the title "let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light." (Romans 13, 12, King James Edition) adds a somewhat moralising dimension by putting book piracy alongside the other 'sins' named in the cited passage: "Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying."


The features of most of the faces shown have been identified: the bandit chief is the Austrian publisher Johann Thomas von Trattner (1717-1798), who made a fortune by reprinting books from other German-speaking territories. His victims are the publishers Friedrich Nicolai - in the centre (cf. the commentary for d_1794) - and, fleeing into the background, Philipp Erasmus Reich (d_1773b). The small bat-like monster flying overhead (a position normally reserved for angels in religious paintings!) is modelled on Gerhard van Swieten (1700-1772), an influential adviser and doctor of Maria Theresa of Austria, who eased censorship regulations but encouraged the reprinting of foreign books in Austria. It was his son Gottfried who had reorganised the Austrian censorship system in 1781. Nicolai's right arm extends the bat monster's line of gaze and points to the head of the Goddess of Justice, sleeping as if drugged by the poppy blossoms above her head.


The copper plate's title identifies it as a "contribution to the history of the book trade in Germany". The 'historical' element is provided by the reference to van Swieten, who had died a decade before the etching's publication but was still regarded as the principal figure responsible for the extensive flourishing of the reprinting business in Austria.


Apart from a scriptural-theological aspect (equating reprints with "works of darkness") and a more juridical one of comparing reprinting to a robbery, the title, by describing the etching as a "warning to all honest booksellers", also brings in the aspect of moral principles in civil society. The "honest" bookseller (ehrliebend literally means 'honour-loving') is one who does not deal in reprints.


Ironically, Christian Friedrich Himburg, the Berlin publisher of the copper print was himself to be branded a pirate for a 1777 two-volume Goethe edition, which in its turn was soon reprinted by two other publishers: in 1778 by Schmieder in Karlsruhe and by Fleischhauer in Reutlingen.

6. Imperial privilege for Aloysius Blumauer's Travesty of Virgil's Aeneid

The privilege for Aloys Blumauer (1755-1798) (d_1785b) neatly illustrates the practice of book privileges in the Habsburg monarchy in the late eighteenth century. The text of the privilege is quite similar to that of sixteenth-century privileges. Five copies for the Imperial Court Council had to be delivered by Blumauer - a deposit obligation that had been introduced in the late sixteenth century and which had often met with reluctance on the part of publishers, especially in the case of expensive books published in just a small number of copies.


Blumauer was a journalist and editor and was appointed a book censor in 1782, after Baron Gottfried van Swieten (1733-1803) had been appointed President of the Court Commission on Education and Censorship (a kind of ministry of culture) by Emperor Joseph II and had reorganised the censorship procedure. Alongside Blumauer he also appointed other liberal reformers, such as Joseph Freiherr von Sonnenfels (1732-1817). As Ursula Kohlmaier points out, the new censorship body

"was regarded as extremely tolerant, especially where works included attacks on the Catholic Church. Most ecclesiastical members had in any case been replaced by laymen officials and authors. In 1784, there appeared the revised catalogue of forbidden books, which was now called 'Register of all books forbidden up to and including 1 January 1784', and which, instead of the c. 5,000 works listed by its predecessor, contained just some 900 forbidden works, mainly pornographic ones, but also materialistic and atheistic works of the French Enlightenment. Moreover, booksellers were given permission to view the catalogue, and they were allowed to send back any works ordered from abroad which had been confiscated, so that they would not have to suffer any financial losses."[8]

Ironically, in the case of Blumauer's travesty of the Aeneid it was the book censor himself who was accused by the notorious reprinter Johann Thomas von Trattner of having published a slanderous book.


In November 1784 Trattner had drafted a "Plan for the general dissemination of literature in the Austrian lands by means of a cheap supply of books for all branches of scholarship".[9] Trattner's 'plan' was to publish reprints of more than 200 titles from more than sixty publishers from outside Austria and was justified by invoking the need to foster education through a greater availability of cheap books. Trattner sent the plan to a number of Austrian authors and asked for further suggestions. It read:

"The undersigned publisher requests Your enlightened and patriotic opinion with regard to the attached draft, as well as a note of those books which are necessary or would be desirable for further enlightenment in each branch of scholarship and the sciences."[10]

Some authors replied furiously - in particular, Blumauer‘s answer is recorded as follows:

"I shall never be able to reconcile it with my principles of right and justice, to take part in something which I consider to be an encroachment on someone else's property, and there is likewise no way I can find this enterprise for defrauding foreigners of their property to be a patriotic cause for the honour of our country. You will, Sir, therefore easily understand why in these and all such cases I cannot be your humble servant - Blumauer"[11]

In January 1785, Trattner published his Plan, inviting the public to subscribe to his huge pirate edition.


Blumauer's public reaction was the picture on the title page of the second volume of his mock Aeneid, which he comments on and explains within the text. The dogs in this illustration are snapping at a human head which is emerging from the soil, quite unprotected. The collar of the dog on the right-hand side is inscribed "T.v.T" which could easily be deciphered as Thomas von Trattner. Even more explicit is the text on page 97:

"Who can these beasts possibly be,

Our hero began to ask,

Which are united here by the dozen

In chewing this skull to pieces?

They are reprinters (replied the

Sybil), these dogs,

The most insolent

Brood of the infernal abyss,

Who are always chasing after authors,

Grabbing the poor fellows by their heads

And devouring their brains."[12]

The libel suit which Trattner filed against Blumauer on account of the picture on the title page was, however, repudiated by the court.


7. References

Books and articles [in alphabetical order]

Estermann, M., "Wercke der Finsternis: Zu einem Blatt Daniel Chodowieckis", Buchhandelsgeschichte, 103 (1997): 103-108

Gieseke, L., Vom Privileg zum Urheberrecht (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1995)

Gräffer, F., Josephinische Curiosa (Vienna: Klang, 1848)

Kapp, F., Geschichte des Deutschen Buchhandels bis in das siebzehnte Jahrhundert (Leipzig: Verlag des Börsenvereins der Deutschen Buchhändler, 1886)

Kohlmaier, U., Der Verlag Franz Anton Schrämbl (Vienna: PhD thesis, 2001). Published within the digital archive Elektronische Publikationen zur Verlags- und Buchhandelsgeschichte, which is available online at:


Lehmstedt, M., Philipp Erasmus Reich (1717-1787) Verleger der Aufklärung und Reformer des deutschen Buchhandels (Leipzig: Karl-Marx-Universität, 1989)

Opitz, O., "Vom Schreiben" 6 (= Marbacher Magazin 88) (Marbach: Deutsche Schillergesellschaft, 1999), 266 ff.

Wittmann, R. Geschichte des Deutschen Buchhandels (Munich: Beck, 1991)

[1] "In der letzten Meße habe ich und verschiedene andere Freunde von dieser Stadt Abschied genommen, und die Buchhändler Meßen, so zu sagen, daselbst begraben. [...] Der Kaiserliche Bücher-Commissarius, Herr Dom Dechant von Scheeben, wurde dadurch sehr allarmirt, Er lude mich auch dieses mahl, wie schon vorhero geschehen, zu einer vertraulichen Unterredung ein, um die Ursachen zu erfahren, woher das Uebel entstünde, und wie ihm abgeholffen werden könnte. Er schien mit meiner Antwort eben nicht zufrieden zu sein, ob er gleich wußte, ‘daß man seit 50 Jahren eine despotische Gewalt auszuüben angefangen; Mit den Privilegien eine Art von Handlung getrieben, und bei vorvallenden Controvers-Schrifften gar nicht die nöthige Billigkeit beobachtet.' Außerdem stellte ich ihm vor, daß in Sachsen jetzt die Gelehrsamkeit mehr als anderwärts blühe, und daß unsere Fabriquen, die Druckereien, und was damit verknüpft ist, in weit beßern Zustande seine, als an irgend einem Orte des Reiches". Letter from Reich to Thomas von Fritsch, quoted in Mark Lehmstedt, Philipp Erasmus Reich (1717-1787) Verleger der Aufklärung und Reformer des deutschen Buchhandels (catalogue edited by the Karl-Marx-Universität (Leipzig 1989), 77.

[2] Lehmstedt, 77.

[3] Quoted without further reference in Johann Goldfriedrich, Geschichte des Deutschen Buchhandels vom Beginn der klassischen Periode bis zum Beginn der Fremdherrschaft (1740-1804), vol. 3 (Leipzig: Verlag des Börsenvereins der Deutschen Buchhändler, 1909), 11.

[4] On Goldfriedrich's historical methodology see Monika Estermann, Buchhandelsgeschichte in kulturhistorischer Absicht: Johann Goldfriedich und Karl Lamprecht. Available online at:


[5] Goldfriedrich, 52.

[6] Goldfriedrich, 15

[7] "Die Änderungen der Zensurbestimmungen haben auch zu einer Zunahme der teilnehmenden Firmen bei der Leipziger Messe geführt. Insgesamt, also aus der Monarchie und den deutschen Staaten, besuchten zwischen 1778 und 1784 235 Firmen die Messe, 1785 waren es plötzlich 325. Aus Prag z. B. kam 1784 nur eine einzige Firma, ein Jahr später waren es bereits sieben. Wien war 1785 mit 16 Firmen vertreten und stand damit nach Berlin (39) an zweiter Stelle. Auch der österreichische Bücherexport zeigt deutlich den Erfolg der Verlagsförderungen Josephs II. Im Jahre 1773 belief sich der Ertrag der Ausfuhr österreichischer Produkte auf 135.000 Taler,

im Jahre 1793 auf 3,260.000 Taler". Ursula Kohlmaier, Der Verlag Franz Anton Schrämbl (Vienna: PhD thesis, 2001), based on data by Reinhard Wittmann, "Soziale und ökonomische Voraussetzungen des Buch- und Verlagswesens in der zweiten Hälfte des 18. Jahrhunderts", in Herbert G. Göprfert (ed.), Buch und Verlagswesen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert (Berlin: Camen, 1977) and Oskar Sashegyi, Zensur und Geistesfreiheit unter Joseph II. (Budapest 1958).

[8] "als außerordentlich tolerant, vor allem bei Angriffen auf die katholische Kirche. Die meisten geistlichen Mitglieder wurden ohnehin durch weltliche Beamte und Schriftsteller ersetzt. 1784 erschien der revidierte Katalog verbotener Bücher, der nun 'Verzeichniss aller bis 1-ten Jenner 1784 verbothenen Bücher' hieß, der im Gegensatz zu den ca. 5000 Werken seines Vorgängers nur etwa 900 verbotene Schriften aufwies, vor allem pornographische, sowie materialistische und atheistische Schriften der französischen Aufklärung. Außerdem erhielten die Buchhändler Einsicht in den Katalog, und es wurde ihnen gestattet, die aus dem Ausland importierten und bei der Revision konfiszierten Werke zurückzuschicken, damit kein finanzieller Schaden entstand." Kohlmaier, 21.

[9] This "Plan zur allgemeinen Verbreitung der Lektüre, in den k.k. Staaten, durch wohlfeile Lieferung der Bücher für alle Fächer der Wissenschaft" was published on 29. January 1785 in the Provincialnachrichten aus den Kaiserl. Königl. Staaten 9 (1785). Quoted here from the facsimile reprint in Ernst Fischer (ed.), Der Buchmarkt der Goethezeit (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg 1986), i, 169.

[10] "Unterzeichneter Verleger bittet über den anliegenden Entwurf um Dero erleuchtete und patriotische Meinung, sammt Anmerkung jener Bücher, welche zu weiterer Aufklärung in jedem Fache der Wissenschaften zum Gegenstand erforderlich oder zu wünschen wären. Wien den 3. Dezember 1784" Quoted in Franz Gräffer, Josephinische Curiosa (Wien: Klang, 1848), i, 163.

[11] "Ich werde es mit meinen Grundsätzen von Recht und Billigkeit nie vereinen können, Theil an einer Sache zu nehmen, die ich für eine Beeinträchtigung fremden Eigenthums halte, so wie ich das Unternehmen, die Ausländer um ihr Eigenthum zu bringen, für die Ehre unseres Vaterlandes schlechterdings nicht patriotisch finden kann. Euer Wohlgeboren werden daher von selbst einsehen, daß ich in diesen und allen dergleichen Fällen nicht seyn kann

Dero dienstwilliger Diener Blumauer" Quoted ibid., 166.

[12] "Wer sind denn diese Bestien

Begann der Held zu fragen:

Die hier zu ganzen Dutzenden

An einem Schädel nagen?«

Nachdrucker sind (erwiederte

Sybille) diese Hunde,

Das aller unverschämteste

Gezücht im Höllenschlunde,

Das stäts nur nach Autoren jagt,

Die armen bei den Köpfen packt,

Und ihr Gehirn verzehret."


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