Nichibunken Monograph No.13
"Pirate" Publishing: The Battle over Perpetual Copyright in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Author: Yamada Shōji
Translated by Lynne E. Riggs

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“PIRATE” PUBLISHING : THE BATTLE OVER PERPETUAL COPYRIGHT IN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY BRITAIN by Yamada Shoji is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
In 1774, Edinburgh "pirate publisher" Alexander Donaldson boldly challenged a group of major London booksellers who sought to monopolize the right to copy books in perpetuity. Why is there a time limit on copyright? This book goes back to the beginning on this question by focusing on a pivotal eighteenth-century court debate in England from a social and cultural point of view. Its historical investigation of the issues of copyright is based on detailed documentary research.

The book explores the relationships among the booksellers, lawyers, members of the nobility, and writers who formed the backdrop to the eighteenth-century publishing industry, a backdrop that offers many insights in considering the issues of copyright today. It is also a history of publishing culture, introducing the ideas and debates about literary works prevailing at that time and the people who figured in those debates.

It is difficult to treat "monopoly" or "piracy" as a clear dichotomy of good and bad. Both were ultimately acting in the pursuit of economic gain, and both claimed to either represent the rights of authors or the convenience of readers to defend their own position. This book tries to illustrate how their head-on clash in the courtroom, intertwined with the interpersonal relationships among lawyers and judges. This approach may seem curious to scholars of law who may be interested primarily in a detailed analysis of the logical structure of court debates. I am convinced, however, that matters not to be found in the courtroom debates alone can show us the forces that set history in motion.

Copyright is an artificial thing, which was born out of the pulsing magma that was the emergence of modern society. Today in the twenty-first century, once again society is undergoing great changes wrought by advances in digital technology and the development of global capitalism. Renewed debate over copyright is indispensable. A parable for the digital media era, this book’s examination of the historic case of Donaldson offers valuable hints as we develop our own stance on the issues of copyright.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1: Monopoly and "Piracy" of Book

  • Donaldson's Catalogs
  • The Reputation of the Monopolist Publisher Millar
  • The Eighteenth-Century English Judicial System
  • Both Sides Present Their Case

Chapter 2: Rivals for the Treasures of Copyright

  • The Content of the "Statute of Anne"
  • The Battles of the Booksellers
  • The Scheme to Wipe Out Pirate Publishing
  • Tonson v. Collins First Trial
  • Tonson v. Collins Second Trial
  • Donaldson Goes to London
  • Victory for the Perpetual Copyright Camp

Chapter 3: Nineteen Days in Court

  • Taking the Battle to the House of Lords
  • Court Convenes
  • Five Questions
  • Silence and a Momentous Speech
  • The Reversal
  • Impact of the Decision on Authors and Booksellers: Samuel Johnson’s View

Chapter 4: Scotland's Network of "Diabolical Knowledge"

  • Scotland’s Stone of Destiny
  • The Union with England
  • The Church and Literacy
  • The Heyday of the Publishing Industry
  • Poet Allan Ramsay
  • To Edinburgh
  • The Gentle Shepherd
  • Ramsay’s Circulating Library
  • Whereabouts of Ramsay’s Library
  • The Younger Allan Ramsay

Chapter 5: The Donaldsons' Legacy

  • The Donaldson Bookshop after the Trial
  • The Legacy of the Case




  • Appendix A: Donaldson's Assertions
  • Appendix B: The Statute of Anne

Shoji Yamada