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French Decree of 30 August 1777, on the duration of privileges, Paris (1777)

Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France : Mss. Fr. 22073 n° 146

French Decree of 30 August 1777, on the duration of privileges, Paris (1777), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org

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Chapter 1 Page 1


regulating the duration of booksellers’

made 30 August 1777.

Extract from the registers of the Council of State.

      Having been made acquainted in Council with memoranda
from a number of booksellers, both in Paris and in the
provinces, concerning the duration of privileges and the
ownership of published works, His Majesty the King has
acknowledged: that the privilege in bookselling is a favour
which is founded in justice, and whose object it is, when
accorded to an author, to reward his labour, and when
accorded to a bookseller, to guarantee the reimbursement
of any advance and to indemnify him against costs incurred:
that the differing purposes of these privileges ought to be
reflected in their duration: that the author clearly has a
greater right to a more enduring favour, while the bookseller
may only expect the favour granted to him to be proportional
to his total expenditure and to the size of his operation:
that the continuing improvement of a work, however, makes
it necessary that the bookseller should have the benefit of
the privilege during the lifetime of the author whose work
he has agreed to publish, but that to grant the privilege
for a longer period would be to make a rightful property of
a benefit granted at the King’s pleasure to prolong a favour
contrary to the very entitlement which determines its duration;

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it would be tantamount to the enshrining of a monopoly, since
a single bookseller would then determine in perpetuity the
price of a particular book; finally, it would perpetuate the
causes of abuse and forgery, by denying provincial printers a
legitimate use for their presses. His Majesty has determined
that a regulation restricting the duration of the exclusive
rights of publishers to the period stipulated by the privilege
would be to their advantage, since a benefit which is limited
but certain, is preferable to one which is indefinite but
illusory: that such a regulation would be to the advantage of
the public, who may expect the cost of books to fall in
consequence to a level determined by the means of the buyers:
that it would be of benefit to men of letters, who will, after
a certain period has elapsed, be able to produce annotated
versions and commentaries of an author, without their right to
publish such texts being contested: that, finally, this regulation
will be all the more useful, since it may encourage commercial
activity, and stimulate such competition among booksellers as
may favour the progress and perfection of their art. To this
effect, the King in Council, on the advice of his Honour the
Keeper of the Seal, commands the following:


      No bookseller or printer shall print or cause to be printed
any new book, without having first obtained the privilege, or
letters patent bearing the impression of the Great Seal.

      His Majesty forbids those booksellers, printers and others
who have obtained letters patent for the printing of a new book
to apply for any continuation of this privilege, unless the book
is to be augmented by at least a quarter; other booksellers
wishing to print existing editions without augmentation shall not
however be refused permission to do so on these grounds.

      Privileges granted for the future printing of new books shall
last no less than ten years.

      Those who have obtained privileges shall retain them not only
for the period indicated therein, but also

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for the remainder of the author’s life, where the latter
lives beyond the expiration of the privilege.

      Any author who obtains in his own name the privilege
to his own work, shall have the right to sell that work in
his own home, but may not under any pretext sell or
negotiate the sale of any other book; he shall retain the
privilege for himself and his heirs in perpetuity, so long
as he does not transfer it to a bookseller; in which case
the duration of the privilege shall be reduced, as a
consequence of that transfer, to the life of the author.

      All booksellers and printers, after the expiration of
the privilege to a work and the death of the author, may
obtain a permit to produce a new edition of that work; the
same permit accorded to one or several individuals shall not
prevent any other individual from obtaining that permit.

      The permits provided for in the preceding article shall
be delivered simply on the signature of whomever the Chancellor
or Keeper of the Seal shall appoint as general director of
booksellers; and in order to stimulate commercial speculation,
those who request such a permit shall also be made aware of
all similar permits, obtained by others, concerning the same
work, and of the number of copies they have been allowed to
print off.

      Since he does not wish to allow these permits to be
obtained in an illusory manner, nor that they be obtained by
those whose do not intend to use them, His Majesty orders that
permits shall only be granted upon payment of the relevant fee,
according to a tariff to be fixed by the Keeper of the Seal.

      The total of these fees shall be received by the Syndics &
Deputies of the Chamber of Syndicates of Paris, or by the person
appointed by them for the purpose; they may only relinquish such
fees at the order of the Chancellor or Keeper of the Seal,

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in order to provide emoluments for the inspectors and
other individuals dedicated to the handling of books.

      Within two months of their being granted, these
permits shall be entered upon the register of the Chamber
of Syndicates in the quarter of residence of the individuals
who obtain them, on pain of being held null and void.

      Since it is his wish to treat favourably those who have
obtained privileges or their continuation prior to this ruling,
His Majesty requires that such individuals present the titles
which establish their rights to the honourable le Camus de
Néville, Master of Requests; this must be done within a maximum
interval of two months, in the case of booksellers and printers
located in Paris, or of three months, in the case of the
provinces. His Majesty gives M. le Camus de Néville the task
of reporting to the Chancellor or Keeper of the Seal, who will,
where necessary, issue a final and definitive privilege.

      After the expiration of the said interval of two months
for the booksellers and printers of Paris, and three months for
those in the provinces, those who have not presented their
titles should expect no continuation of their privilege.

      The present ruling does not affect the traditional diocesan
privileges or similar privileges. His Majesty commands that the
present ruling be recorded by all Chambers of Syndicates, printed,
published and posted wherever necessary. Made in the King’s
Council of State, in the presence of his Majesty, at Versailles
this 30 August 1777. Signed AMELOT.


From the printing-office of Lottin Sr, Printer and Book-
seller to the King and the City, rue St Jacques, near St Yves
Church, "au Coq et au Livre d'or"; 1777.

Translation by: Andrew Counter


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