The History of Copyright

Licensing Act 1662

In 1662, Charles II passed the Licensing Act, establishing a register of licensed books. The Act also included the requirement that a copy of any book to be licensed be deposited. The deposition of books was managed by the Stationer's Company who were also give power to seize any books suspected of containing any matters being hostile to Church or to the Government. The Licensing Act was repealed in 1981, but by passing a by-law that established ownership rights for books registered by some of its members, the Stationer's Company were able to continue to regulate the printing trade.

The Statute of Anne - 1710

The Statute of Anne - An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned - was the first Copyright law in the English-speaking world and came into effect on 10th April 1710. The Statute of Anne recognized copyright as an author's right, i.e. ownership of the copyright in a work belongs to the author. Furthermore, the author was afforded protection of their work for a fixed term. Initially, this fixed term was a period of 14 years, with an option to renew for a further period of 14 years provided the author was alive at the end of the first 14 year period. A further requirement of the Act was that nine copies of the book must be deposited to certain libraries throughout the country.

The Copyright Act 1842

The Copyright Act of 1842, revised the term of property protection to 42 years or life of the author plus 7 years, whichever was the longest. Further Copyright Acts were introduced granting similar protection for other works, such as Engraving, Sculpture and Dramatic works.

International Copyright Act 1886 and the Berne Convention

The International Copyright Act was passed in 1886 following a recommendation by a Royal Commission in 1875 that the government enter a bilateral copyright agreement with the United States of America to provide reciprocal protection for British and US authors. The Act removed the requirement for foreign works to be registered and introduced an exclusive right to import and/or produce translations.

In 1887, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works was ratified by the UK. The Convention required that the works of authors from other signatory countries be recognised in the same way as the copyright of its own citizens. Later revisions to the Convention established certain standards for Copyright law, such as Copyright must be an automatic right (does not need to be registered) and that all works (with the exception of photographic and cinematographic works) shall be protected for at least 50 years after the author's death.

The Copyright Act 1911

The Copyright Act, passed in 1911, collated all provisions into a single Act by revising and repealing many earlier Acts. The Act implemented changes arising from the first revision of the Berne Convention in 1908. In particular, the Act afforded protection to sound recordings and works of architecture, the requirement to register Copyright with Stationer's Hall was abolished, and the term of Copyright protection in the UK was extended to life of the holder plus 50 years. Furthermore, Copyright holders were given the rights to print and sell copies of their work, to reproduce their work and to perform and authorise works in public.

The Copyright Act 1956

The Copyright Act 1956, which came into force in June 1957, implemented further amendments to the Berne Convention and also took into account the UK's accession to the Universal Copyright Convention. For the first time, films and broadcasts were afforded protection under the Act in their own right. Furthermore, the Performing Right Tribunal was established formed specifically for the resolution of Copyright disputes.

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 came into force in August 1989. The Act provided an update of Copyright law in the UK. Many amendments have been made to the Act since it came into force, mainly to incorporate a number of European Directives. An important amendment made in 1995 was to include the extension of the period of Copyright protection to life of author plus 70 years, to harmonise the term of protection across all EU countries. Further amendments were made in 2001 to implement various European Directives designed to further harmonise Copyright laws across the EU member states. As apparent from its name, the Act also implemented changes to Patent and Design law in the UK.