Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)
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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.

We are now adding materials from other countries. Primary sources from Spain were published in 2012, and the Netherlands will follow in 2014. Using the archive for the first time? A possible starting point is here.

For each of the geographical zones/jurisdictions, a national editor has taken 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’ brief was to limit the selection to 50 core documents for Germany, France, Britain and Spain, and to 20 core documents for Italy and the US (these covering only a shorter period). However, the 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, University of Glasgow (since 2009, formerly University of Birmingham)
German speaking countries: Dr Friedemann Kawohl, Bournemouth University
France: Dr Frédéric Rideau, Université de Poitiers
Italy: Dr Joanna Kostylo, Assistant Director, The British School at Rome (since 2012, formerly University of Cambridge)
United States: Dr Oren Bracha, University of Texas
Spain: Dr José Bellido, Birkbeck College, University of London

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.

Database design and website have been coded by Karin Hoehne (Cologne, Germany). A complete redesign was implemented in 2012. The new 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.

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 (since 2012, formerly University of Bournemouth)

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 Andrew McHugh (andrew.mchugh[at]

Copyright statement
You may copy and distribute the translations and commentaries in this resource, or parts of such translations and commentaries, in any medium, for non-commercial purposes as long as the authorship of the commentaries and translations is acknowledged, and you indicate the source as Bently & Kretschmer (eds), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900) (

You may not publish these documents for any commercial purposes, including charging a fee for providing access to these documents via a network. This licence does not affect your statutory rights of fair dealing.

Although the original documents in this database are in the public domain, we are unable to grant you the right to reproduce or duplicate some of these documents in so far as the images or scans are protected by copyright or we have only been able to reproduce them here by giving contractual undertakings. For the status of any particular images, please consult the information relating to copyright in the bibliographic records.

Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge, 10 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DZ, UK