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'Pezzana e Consorti' case: counter-petition and rulings, Venice (1781)

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'Pezzana e Consorti' case: counter-petition and rulings, Venice (1781), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org

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Chapter 1 Page 1

To the Most Illustrious and Excellent Gentlemen
the Commissioners of the University of Padua.

      If laying at the feet of our Prince the most reverent petition,
so that he might deign to hear the wishes of various honourable
families who are his subjects, could be qualified with the odious
character of wishing to wage war against the Sovereign and to the
eminent authority of this Most Earnest Tribunal, then neither the
Majesty of the Senate would have deigned to satisfy their petition,
nor would the clemency of Your Excellencies have consented to
listen to the details of their most respectful remonstrance.
      Far removed from these honourable families is the arbitrary
reproach that they are somehow waging war against the Sovereign
Prince; for, indeed, not in vain are they benefited by his laws, and
they all have a profound respect and sense of devotion for the
assiduous cares of this Most Excellent Magistracy, which, in its
most recent Ruling of 30 July 1780, has instituted and embraced
in the various articles of the latter the most useful measures for
promoting the good of the Art of Printing and the Venetian book
      One of these measures stands out as remarkable because of
the great maxim contained in it, and because of the profound
consequences which might result from it. It is comprised in art.
6, 7, 8, 9, and 10, in which this Most Exc. Magistracy, in accordance
with the petitions of the current Prior of the Guild, and his Adjuncts,
has decided to decree an absolute, universal, and limitless exclusive
right [privativo] for any book hitherto printed in this realm, as a
result of which the entirety of all possible books which from the
invention of printing have so far been printed in our State, whether
with privilege, or without, all of them would without exception be
taken away forever from the liberty of the Venetian press, leaving
the latter with nothing more than the risk-fraught publication of books

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that are new and have never before been printed in Venice.
      The most humble complaints of these families being opposed only
to this section of that venerable Ruling, and these having already been
satisfied by the compassion of the Senate which granted them an
audience, the clemency of Your Excellencies has agreed to receive
from the voice of their lawyer their deferential feelings concerning the
venerable decree, which they shall now summarize, so that, gathered
together in these pages, their views may again be submitted to the
wisdom of Your Excellencies, whom they ask to note that, since their
original petition was followed by a counter-petition from the current
Prior of the Guild and his associates, who have intervened as their
opponents, their respectful defence now will be aimed only at contesting
the assumptions made by the latter, whilst always treating with the
utmost deference and submission that supreme authority from which
the aforesaid Ruling emanates and with which it is invested.
      However, in summarizing the examination which has been
carried out [of the Ruling and the counter-petition], the most humble
supplicants cannot hide the fact that it is a source of great comfort to
those who are not present here to find that their petition is backed up
by the unswerving legislation of three centuries, by the principles
advanced by the Most Exc. Senate will all its recognised experience,
not that the uniform maxims of this Most Earnest Magistracy have
not at all times been protected and upheld by the latter, even when
followed by solemn judgments to the contrary.
      Now, what the nature, circumstances [rapporti] and effects of
privileges in the sphere of printing are, is a subject which has been
exhausted in repeated enquiries made by the Most Exc. Senate on
the basis of concrete facts.
      If they would care to go through again their successive deliberations
on the matter, they will find that these are always directed at eradicating
the abuse and excessive duration of privileges.
      "Taking away liberty through privileges has hindered the diffusion
of the arts,
and commerce, it has dealt a blow to public and private
, remarks the first Decree of 1517.
      "To prohibit, with an exclusive privilege [privativo], other subjects from reprinting,
means to nourish and foster the reprinting activities of foreigners"
, remarks the second

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decree of 1533.
      "An exclusive privilege, the Senate adds in 1537,
removes competition and rivalry, but it is these which are the mother of
all industry; the pretext of corrections and augmentations is devised, in order
to surreptitiously obtain new privileges for the same book"
, and in the year
1603, when regulating the terms and duration of privileges only for books
being printed for the first time, it re-affirmed for all the others the principle
of liberty [of reprinting], which is the principle that has constantly been opted
for at all times.
      It is on these principles, which are the fruit of experience and reason,
that all the measures of this Tribunal, which has fortunately been chosen to
protect the welfare of this Art, have turned upon. A series of rulings which
have been issued in the course of the current century have always proscribed
the abuse of privileges; and if in the year 1762 [?] the printing offices in the
Republic's mainland domains were forbidden to reprint the books of the
City of Venice's publishers whose privileges were just about to expire; this
was an act designed to give preference to the Venetian presses, whose
original liberty was left intact, so that each house might, in proportion to its
funds and diligence, expand its business; and if anyone subsequently imagined
that, by invoking peculiar schemes and circumstances, he would be able
to secure a further extension of his privilege, the justice of this Most Exc.
Magistracy, having carried out judicial comparisons of all the facts pertaining
to this matter, has forbidden any misuses, and the liberty of printing has
been enshrined by solemn judgment, as happened in the year 1763.
      The person who with great audacity and trickery defended the claims
of the Prior of the Guild and his associates knew very well the importance
of such uniform and steadfast acts of legislation which pride themselves in
imitating the most cultivated nations of Europe – legislative acts which are
all the more venerable and sacred, given that they rest on the proven results
of experience and facts; therefore every possible means must be tried to
destroy their force [i.e. of the Prior's claims].

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      These are laws, they argue, from earlier centuries, from other
times, they were designed to regulate an Art which was then only just emerging
but in this respect he [their lawyer] is all too confident of the antiquity of all
these laws, which, having always been passed with the same principle of opposition
to any excessive duration of privileges, have accompanied the progress of this
Art right up to the most recent times. For was this Art still 'just emerging' in 1705?
was it still in its cradle in 1745, in 1753, in 1764, and finally in 1767?!
      It is not true, he adds, that these laws were meant to uphold
the liberty of reprinting; in fact, they extended the duration of privileges.

But every word of all these laws demonstrates the contrary: they protect partial
and temporary privileges, but they certainly do not prescribe extensions and
      Finally, he says, whatever these laws happened to be, the
Sovereign Prince was entitled to abolish them, and he has indeed abolished and
revoked them.
Alas, this is unfortunately all too true: but since the clemency
of the Prince has deigned, by granting an audience to our petition, to re-examine
such an argument, may the clemency of this Magistracy also deign to ascertain
whether a universal, absolute and unlimited exclusive right [privativo] to every
book is capable of producing the desired result and of increasing the prosperity
of this trade.
      Is there any axiom in the realm of commerce more universally accepted than
that which says that an exclusive right [privativo] destroys all speculation
and industry, and favours only idleness and monopoly?
      Whether or not this axiom is even appropriate for the nature of this Art and
this trade, is something that can be easily found out from the specific circumstances
of the latter.
      It is only too evident that large-scale activity in this trade [il grande di questo
] can only be rooted in, and nourished by, an abundance of products,
without which a vast and extensive circulation becomes impossible.
      It is from this abundance of products that the trade derives a fullness

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in the range of its stock and an easiness in its prices, and it is to these two
principles alone that the Art of Printing in Venice owes its progress; since
experience and comparison with other nations shows that the magnificence
and exquisiteness of a particular costly edition may certainly be an object of
curiosity and luxury, but it cannot provide the sustenance and life of this trade.
      That an absolute privilege, which is essentially the same as a monopoly,
makes a good scarcer and raises its price, is something that does not need to be
      Someone who craves after money and who, sheltered by an unlimited
privilege, is able to lay down the law for everyone, will certainly not renounce
the opportunity of making a profit.
      That an absolute privilege goes against an abundance of products, is
likewise palpably evident. A sole and unique edition cannot provide that
variety of formats, that variety of prices, that diversity in the quality of
type, paper, etc. – in short, that range of stock which can satisfy the diverse
opinions and needs of mankind.
      When this Art, by multiplying the number of publications in
circulation, imperceptibly expanded its trade to foreign countries too,
and, receiving requests from other European markets, found itself weighed
down with foreign commissions for a wide range of articles from various
publishers, it consequently experienced the difficulty of satisfying so
detailed and diverse commissions.
      To acquire with one's own cash other peoples' books, in order to send
them promptly at considerable risk to their destination, was awkward and
impossible to demand – it deprived the tradesman of the capital and funds
that he needed for the daily subsistence of his presses. Leaving orders
for books which one had to acquire from one's colleagues unfulfilled, meant
also forfeiting the turnover of one's own publications.
      It was from this fateful difficulty that there emerged, in our century,
the practice of barter speculation, by means of which every tradesman,

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using his own books, can also acquire those of others, and all members of
the profession supply each other mutually with the means of stocking up
for commissions from foreign clients, thereby facilitating a ready and
extensive circulation of books.
      Now, the Prior of the Guild does agree that the great spring which
drives the present foreign trade is indeed the barter system; but, obliged
to admit this fact, he has sought to uphold a manifest paradox – namely,
that the barter trade can be reconciled with exclusive privileges and
      It is sufficient to voice such a notion for one to feel its absurdity.
In order that it might be true, nothing less would be required than that
all the members of the profession could offer a range of books of identical
merit and that their trade were of the same scope. But surely it is impossible
to imagine this, as soon as an exclusive privilege [privativo] has been put
in the hands of a tradesman who is either idle, or an enemy of active
enterprise, or who has but limited capital and funds, who prefers retail
selling on a small scale to ambitious commercial undertakings; it is all too
evident, that, being sure of selling his sought-after book for ready cash,
he will not want to exchange it with anyone else, since the restricted nature
of his trade requires that he must not burden himself with goods for which
he lacks the diligence to secure an adequate turnover.
      Whereas, on the other hand, in the state of liberty in which it was born,
bartering not only sustains itself, as witnessed at all times by experience and
facts, but becomes as good as indispensable; because the hope of each bookseller
that he will be able, with reciprocal favours and daily correspondence, to
save his book from being reprinted, forces him to consent to exchanging
it with other colleagues; from which it then follows that, furnished in
this way with books of his own and those of others, he is to some extent
forced to shake off his idleness and to give some form of movement to
a business which, otherwise restricted by custom to the convenience of a few
essential and safe articles, becomes, instead of a warehouse, a mere shop
for just retail selling; and by restricting the circulation of its

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own business destroys even that of the others.
      Such was indeed the case with a notable firm, which, because of the
personal objectives of a new minister who was interested in the press,
decided to cut down on its barter trade, inevitably suffered the stagnation
of its funds, and other colleagues were forced to reprint its publications.
      The very idea of restricting the industrious tradesman, on the strength of
an absolute and universal privilege, to nothing more than the risky enterprise
of bringing out new books, does indeed seem repugnant to the essential
sustenance of this trade, and the reason for this is readily seen.
      In all possible sciences and arts, to which the human mind has so
far directed its efforts, there has always been a series of classic and original
books, consecrated by time and the universal consensus of mankind and
all nations. Theology, History, Medicine, all the endless arts and sciences
are planted on these foundations of indispensable books, that is books which
can be rightly called of first necessity. Every person who wishes to master
one or several of these arts is necessarily led to the purchase and consumption
of these books of universal demand and respective necessity.
      For it is indeed these which constitute the true essence and the principal
mainstay of this trade, and on which, applying as much prudence as possible,
every shrewd tradesman must expect to employ at least a part of his own funds.
      The industry of the book trade consists above all in attracting to oneself the
preference of other nations by means of being able to provide this essential
circulating stock of established books, which then serves to bolster or compensate
for the risk-fraught publication of new books. An exclusive privilege [privativo]
which robs a business of this fundamental stock, destroys its trade down to the
roots and makes it impossible for the latter to even as much as contemplate new
      To deny that the ancient liberty of essential and certain-to-sell articles
constitutes the only true means of balancing the risks of new publication enterprises,
is to deny the most invariable truth. In the preceding decade

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we saw 328 [?] new books brought out by our Guild, but what fate would have
befallen the bookseller whose industry was restricted to just the risk-fraught
enterprise of these books? Amongst these, except for but a small number which
are likely to be successful, all the rest end up lying on the shelves, difficult to
sell off, and they would long since have spelt the ruin of their brave publishers.
      Certainly, though the successive and unswerving laws of the Duchy, and all
the principles of reason and commerce, do speak against an absolute, perpetual
and universal exclusive privilege, the verification that has been proposed for
it is no less remarkable for that. Since what is expected is either that the
privilege-holder must start printing the books that have been assigned to him
within the fixed period of two months – and in some cases this would be
impossible because of the quality and number of books that he has been
assigned; whilst in others he might lack the necessary funds – or that this
period of two months is to be reckoned from the moment the existing
copies of the privileged book have sold out – but who can be certain of
the current state of other persons' warehouses? As a result of this it could
easily happen that either the laziness, or the straitened circumstances, or
the jealously of the privilege-holder leads to the most essential books being
drawn out of circulation, without it being possible for such an inconvenience
to be remedied by the alternative clauses [?] of the law, whose proper
functioning can only be checked after a long time has passed, and for which
there are no notable precedents. In fact, from the day that the law was
promulgated in August last year to this March, not a single one of the
books whose privileges had expired and which were assigned to a
publisher has been checked to see if the latter has complied with the
provisions, not a single one has been sent to the press, and ever since that
day the law has remained unimplemented.
      Finally, it is an infallible truth, and one that has indeed been marked
by the wisdom of the Senate that forbidding reprinting by subjects of the
Republic merely nourishes and encourages reprinting by foreigners.
      Let now the objections of the Prior of the Guild and his associates be
measured against this truth. These objections fall into two categories –
some refer to the measure in question;

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the others are all just concerned with the most impassioned invective
against the Remondini house.
                  Let us examine the objections of the first kind.
      At the start of the century, the advocate of the opposing party
boldly claimed, the flourishing and thriving Venetian publishing industry
numbered 120 [?] presses, which provided an ample harvest of books for circulation
and commerce. This prosperity kept diminishing all the time, though, and now we
see it reduced to the number of just 80 [?] presses. This decay occurred at a time of
liberty of printing. Liberty is therefore the cause of this decline.
An utterly false
conclusion, one can reply to the Prior and his associates.
      If the limited liberty of a temporary privilege were the canker at the
heart of the whole thing, how could, given such an intrinsic defect, the
acknowledged growth of the publishing industry back then have taken
place? Other visible and general causes have combined since that time
to wage war against this branch of commerce.
      The progress of industry in other countries, the vast printing offices
of Naples, which in terms of the lightness of their prices are on a par with
the Venetian trade, the presses established in ever so many Italian cities:
Florence, Parma, Lucca, Milan, and every small town of the Romagna region,
they all try to outdo one another in printing – whereas at the beginning of
the century many of them had no idea whatsoever of this Art.
      The jealousy of the sovereign princes, who were very reluctant to
tolerate the importation of foreign products and passive commerce, encouraged
the industry of their respective subjects, so that these undertook printing
enterprises of their own.
      The reform of the Guild's regular membership, which contributes so much to the
welfare of the nation and the State by reducing the number of individual
members in each profession, has decreased the consumption of books.
      Indeed, the zest for building up libraries being all but lost, so that it
is on the contrary the breaking up and selling off of their collections which

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a manifest regurgitation of the articles in circulation – these are the visible
and general causes of the alleged decline, which have previously been
considered with the mature attention of this Most Exc. Magistracy.
      But this does not detract from the fact, they retort furthermore,
that the liberty of printing is a cause of the decadence of this Art. After
thirty years have passed, on the expiry of its privilege, all the publishers rush in
upon the book that is no longer subject to exclusivity, and multiple editions of it
come out at the same time, whence the stagnation, whence the horrendous quality
of the impression, the distraction from new enterprises, the ruin of individual
members of the profession and that of the Art as such.

      Adored Prince, let the most obvious reflections be countered against such
reasoning on the part of the Prior.
      There can be no doubt that after the course of thirty years the fate of a
book is already a settled matter. Either it is of poor quality, and it sells very
slowly, if at all – no one would then fall upon such a book.
      Or the book is a certain and reliable success, and for that reason reprint
editions of it, which will always be sought after in the most varied places
and satisfy the diverse opinions of people, are not only not ruinous, but are
in fact necessary for nourishing a vast trade.
      It is a fact that in the case of precious articles, namely those which
spur publishers to produce simultaneous reprints, a single edition is not
sufficient to meet the demands of the trade. One person will want the book
in a large format, another will want it in a smaller size; someone is ready to
pay so and so much for it, another wants a different price; someone prefers
a round type, another one that is finer; and an undeniable proof of this is
afforded by all the classic books, the Bible, the Life of St Anthony, the works
of Metastasio, and many others whose appearance in multiple editions has
not prevented their circulation or their sale. Now, though, when the reprinting
of these works is forbidden to Venetian subjects, when an exclusive privilege
mandates that there shall be just one single edition, and therefore a single
format, a single letter-type, a single price, it is evident

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that more varied editions and reprints will be demanded of foreign publishers,
who will reap all the profit from it, to the detriment of Venice.
      Neither does the alleged stagnation represent a hindrance to these
books – the former either has to do with the decision of an individual
member of the profession, who, keen to sell for ready cash and unwilling
to get involved in the barter trade, keeps the book shut up in his store-
rooms and removes it from the universal circulation of the barter system;
and it is he who is to blame for this.
      Or it has to do with an excessive abundance of copies, and the
latter, if the book in question is known to sell well, cannot be called a
stagnation for the country, but constitutes, rather, a deposit which is
used up progressively as the copies are bought up.
      In the case of such publications the relative abundance of copies
is caused, rather, with the intention of making a likely saving. The
bookseller who assesses the state of his business and carefully observes
the developments of the trade, may see, for example, that for a particular
book it is likely that, say, six thousand copies will be consumed in a
decade, and he does not expect to carry out its publication by multiplying
the expenditure three or four times, but, rather, having made his decision,
he will produce in one go the whole stock of copies to last those ten years.
      As for the deterioration in the quality of publications, it would indeed
be superfluous to even talk about it. For this is something that has already
been provided for by the wise reflection of Your Exc. through the
regulations you have introduced and the revisions by the First Examiner
that you have decreed, and under whose vigour, or that of even stronger
measures, Venetian publications will recover their original beauty.
      Then he has gone so far as to maintain that the decreed exclusive
privilege is not absolute because its tenth article allows a second edition
to be brought out provided that it is particularly splendid and different in
its adornments and in all other respects – well, who cannot see that this
is a most restrictive exception, one that cannot be adapted to the essential
course of this trade, whose

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main articles are not even susceptible of such requirements?
      Finally, he even wanted to reproach them for having tendered their
supplication to the Prince just eight months after the law was promulgated;
as if they had been supposed to wait until their assortments were used up,
their commissions diverted [to rivals], and their business had come to a
standstill, before imploring a late remedy which would have either turned
out not very effective or would indeed have been quite inactive.
      Now there remains nothing more but to examine everything that, in
a manifest spirit of animosity, was brought up against the Remondini firm;
and since the accusations made against the latter were depicted in the
most elaborate colours, so it behoves the clemency and justice of Your
Exc. to make a comparison of the facts.
      If the assiduous and honourable diligence of a subject in extending,
in all possible ways, this branch of foreign commerce; if the employment
of one's wealth over a long time instead of idle consumption, of wealth that
is all directed at expanding this trade; if compelling, in an unprecedented
manner, and with the investment of one's own money, people in all parts of
the world to disseminate Venetian publications; if setting into motion
whole workshops and factories for the production of paper and the
other materials which are ancillary to this trade, obtaining the raw
materials from abroad; if providing a living for a thousand of the
Principality's subjects and propagating the spirit of enterprise and
industry in all cities under its jurisdiction, with the ensuing benefit
to the public treasury; if this, adored Prince, if this is to cause harm
to the nation, if this can constitute a crime on the part of a subject,
then well-deserved are the invectives which were hurled with such
vehemence against this honourable family.
      But if we distinguish the various periods, if we familiarize
ourselves with the sovereign measures whose protection the latter
family enjoys, then the facts can be compared in their

Translation by: Luis Sundkvist


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