Donaldson v. Becket, London (1774)

Source: Hansard, 1st ser., 17 (1774): 953-1003, University of Birmingham Library

Donaldson v. Becket, London (1774), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,

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Donaldson v. Becket (1774) Hansard, 1st ser., 17 (1774): 953-1003

Full title original language:

The first decision of the House of Lords to address the question of copyright. This decision is generally regarded as providing a conclusion to the literary property debate of the mid-eighteenth century that affirmed the existence of copyright at common law while at the same time deciding that that natural authorial property right was nevertheless supplanted by the Statute of Anne 1710 (uk_1710). The commentary explores the background to, and substance of, the case, and in particular, the relationship between the common law judges and the House of Lords when exercising its appellate jurisdiction, and the subsequent efforts of the book trade to secure new legislation following the decision. The commentary suggests that the traditional interpretation of the Donaldson decision is open to question. Instead, it argues that the House of Lords, in line with the majority of the law lords who spoke to the issue, rejected the argument in favour of common law copyright, but that the significance of this decision was nevertheless obscured as a result of the manner in which the opinions of the judges and the law lords was subsequently recorded and reported.

1 Commentary:

  • Whicher, J., 'The Ghost of Donaldson v Beckett: An Inquiry into the Constitutional Distribution of Powers over the Law of Literary Property in the United States', Copyright Society of the USA, 9 (1961-62): 102-51, 194-229

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

  • Patterson, L.R., Copyright in Historical Perspective (Nashville: Vanderbilt University, 1968)

  • 2004)

  • Deazley, R., On the Origin of the Right to Copy: Charting the Movement of Copyright Law in Eighteenth Century Britain, 1695-1775 (Oxford: Hart Publishing,

  • Abrams, H., 'The Historic Foundation of American Copyright Law: Exploding the Myth of Common Law Copyright', Wayne Law Review, 29 (1983): 1119-1191

Related documents in this database:
1780: 'Pezzana e Consorti' case: supporting documents
1774: The Cases of the Appellants and Respondents
1774: The Pleadings of the Counsel before the House
1774: Booksellers' Bill
1834: Wheaton v. Peters
1834: Wheaton v. Peters Independent Report

Author: N/A

Publisher: N/A

Year: 1774

Location: London

Language: English

Source: Hansard, 1st ser., 17 (1774): 953-1003, University of Birmingham Library

Persons referred to:

Adams, Richard
Addison, Joseph
Ames, Joseph
Ashurst, William
Aston, Richard
Bacon, Francis
Bathurst, Henry, 2nd Earl
Becket, Thomas
Blackstone, William
Burrow, Sir James
Camden, Charles Pratt, 1st Earl
Charles I
Charles II
Clarke, Sir Thomas
Condell, Henry
Cromwell, Oliver
Curl, Edmund
Donaldson, Alexander
Donaldson, John
Dunning, John
Elizabeth I
Eyre, Sir James
Faulkner, George
Foote, Samuel
Frederick II, the Great
George III
Gilbert, Sir Geoffrey
Gould, Henry
Grotius, Hugo
Gwyn, Francis
Harcourt, Simon, 1st Viscount
Harrison, John
Hawkesworth, John
Hemings, John
Henley, Robert, 1st Earl of Northington
Henry VI
Henry VIII
Hogarth, William
Holt, Sir John
Hume, David
James I
Jeffreys, George Jeffreys, 1st Baron
Johnson, Samuel
Johnson, Samuel
Kames, Henry Home, Lord
Law, Rt Rev Edmund
Locke, John
Lyttelton, Thomas, 2nd Baron Lyttelton of Frankley
Mansfield, William Murray, 1st Earl
Mary I
Milton, John
Nares, John
Newton, Sir Isaac
Newton, Thomas
Paulus, Julius
Perrott, George
Philip II
Pope, Alexander
Prynne, William
Robertson, William
Scroggs, Sir William
Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of
Shakespeare, William
Shebbeare, John
Smythe, Sir Sidney Stafford
Somers, John, 1st Baron
Stair, John Dalrymple, 5th Earl
Swift, Jonathan
Thomson, James
Thurlow, Edward, 1st Baron
Tillotson, John
Wedderburn, Alexander, 1st Earl of Rosslyn
Willes, Edward
Wolsey, Thomas
Yates, Joseph
Yorke, Charles
de Grey, William

Places referred to:

Cases referred to:
Basket v. University of Cambridge (1758) 2 Keny. 397, 1 Black W. 105, 2 Burr. 661
Dodsley v. Kinnersley (1761) Amb. 403
Donaldson v. Becket (1774) 4 Burr. 2408, 2 Bro. P.C. 129
Duke of Queensbury v. Shebbeare (1758) 2 Eden 329
Eyre v. Walker (1735) NA, c.11 1520/29
Millar v. Taylor (1769) 4 Burr. 2303
Pope v. Curl (1741) 2 Atk. 342
Stationers' Company v. Seymour (1677) 1 Mod. 256
Tonson v. Walker (1752) NA, c.11 1106/18, 3 Swans 672

Institutions referred to:
Court of Chancery
Court of King's Bench
Court of Sessions, Scotland
House of Commons
House of Lords
Stamp Office (London)
Star Chamber
Stationers' Company
University of Cambridge
Westminster Hall

Act for an Union of the two Kingdoms of England and Scotland, 1707, 5 & 6 Anne, c.8
Licensing Act, 1662, 13 & 14 Car.II, c.33
Statute of Anne, 1710, 8 Anne, c.19
Statute of Monopolies, 1624, 21 Jac.I, c.3

authorship, legal concept of
common law copyright
labour theory
moral rights, theory
patents, printing
property theory

Responsible editor: Ronan Deazley

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