History of Copyright Law in India

This post was first published on 3rd February, 2011.

Today almost every nation has a copyright law in place and is mostly standardized to some extent through international and regional agreements such as the Berne Convention and the European copyright directives. But when we look back, we realise that the Copyright law has a very unique history.

The earliest copyright case is traced back to Ireland, where there was a dispute over the ownership of the Irish manuscript Cathach. The Cathach is the oldest extant Irish manuscript of the Psalter. It contains a Vulgate version of Psalms XXX (10) to CV (13) with an interpretative rubric or heading before each psalm. It is traditionally ascribed to Saint Columba as the copy, made at night in haste by a miraculous light, of a Psalter lent to Columba by St. Finnian. A dispute arose about the ownership of the copy and King Diarmait Mac Cerbhaill gave the judgement “To every cow belongs her calf; therefore to every book belongs its copy.”

The real need of copyright law was felt only after the invention of printers and copiers. Prior to the invention of printers, writing could be created only once. It was highly laborious and risk of errors was involved in the manual process of copying by a scribe. Interestingly even in such a situation, Europe had an elaborate system censorship and control over scribes. During the 15th and 16th Century, printing was invented and widely established in Europe. Copies of Bibles were the first to be printed. Government had allowed printing without any restrictions but this led to dissemination of lot of governmental information. Subsequently, government started issuing licenses for printing.

The republic of Venice was the first to grant privilege to print books. It was for the history of its own named ‘Rerum venetarum ab urbe condita opus’ authored by Marcus Antonius Coccius Sabellicus. From 1492 onwards Venice began to regularly grant privileges for books.

In 1518, the first copyright privilege was granted in England. It was issued to Richard Pynson, King’s Printer, the successor to William Caxton. The privilege gave a monopoly for the term of two years. These copyright privileges were called as monopolies. Later in 1701, the parliaments of England and Scotland were united as a result of the Anglo-Scottish Union. The new parliament was able to change the laws in both countries and an important early piece of legislation was the Copyright Act of 1709, also known as the Statute of Anne, after Queen Anne. The act came into force in 1710 and was the first copyright statute.

United States did not follow the law of England. Till 1783, US did not have proper copyright legislations. It was in 1783, few writers raised voice against the government to enact copyright law as they believed that nothing is more properly a man’s own than the fruit of his study, and that the protection and security of literary property would greatly tend to encourage genius and to promote useful discoveries.” But then, the continental congress did not have any power to enact copyright laws. In 1787, proposals were submitted at the Philipedia convention to grant congress the powers to enact copyright law, and it was finally in1790, first federal Copyright Act was enacted.

Thereafter, came the international agreements like the Paris convention and the Berne convention which are the standards for the copyright law enacted by every country including India.

It is believed that the evolution of Copyright law in India has been in three phases. The law of copyright was introduced in India only when the British East India Company was established in 1847. This Act had very different provisions in comparison to today’s law. The term of the Copyright was life time of the author plus seven years after the death of the author. But in no case could the total term of copyright exceed a period of forty-two years. The government could grant a compulsory licence to publish a book if the owner of copyright, upon the death of the author, refused to allow its publication. Registration of Copyright with the Home Office was mandatory for enforcement of rights under the Act. This was the first phase.

The second phase was in 1914, when the Indian legislature under the British Raj enacted the Copyright Act of 1914. It was almost similar to the United Kingdom Copyright Act of 1911. But the major change that was brought in this Act was criminal sanction for infringement. Number of times amendment were brought to this Act up till 1957. Subsequently, India saw the third phase of Copyright law in 1957. The Copyright Act, 1957 was enacted in order to suit the provisions of the Berne Convention. This Act was enacted by Independent India by which we are governed till date.

Authored By Ms. Sharada Kalamadi

Reference: http: //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_copyright_law


  • February 16, 2011 Posted

    Here is a similar story

    This is the first copyright act in the world, the British Statute of Anne, from 1710. This facsimile is taken from British Library, 8 Anne c. 19. Several monographs on copyright date this text to 1709. However, 1710 is the correct date, see John Feather, The Book Trade in Politics: The Making of the Copyright Act of 1710, “Publishing History”, 19(8), 1980, p. 39 (note 3). Transcription from fraktur is available below the image. Words in roman type in the original are formatted here as italics.

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