3.2.8: 1725 - 1830 - Copyright and piracy

Not much changed in practice up until the end of the Republic with respect to piracy and protection of copyright. The Netherlands remained a major production centre for the reprinting of foreign, especially French, publications. Large numbers of popular French titles were reprinted by printers in the Netherlands, among whom many Huguenots who had fled from France, which were then disseminated via a well-organised distribution network on to the European market. The mass production of English bibles also remained significant until well into the eighteenth century.

Privileges remained the most important weapon against domestic piracy. Although the number of privileges issued annually by the States of Holland hardly decreased, it is characteristic of the stagnation in the book trade that an increasing number of applications were submitted by companies of publishers and that more and more extensions of existing privileges were issued. An attempt was made to spread the risk and the emphasis was more and more on publications which had proven their marketability, such as pietist religious works.

Attempts by writers to request privileges or even to have recognised control over their work met with resistance from the publishers. Only the professors of Leiden, under the leadership of the influential Herman Boerhaave, succeeded in 1728 in obtaining a decree from the States of Holland prohibiting the printing and reprinting of their work without written permission of the author. This was the first official recognition by the Dutch authorities of the existence of author's copyright.

The fall of the Republic in 1795 eventually meant the end of the system of privileges. In its place, after much discussion and various provincial regulations, a law was passed in 1803 by the National Assembly of the Batavian Republic whereby the copyright of an author to his work was recognised. The emphasis, however, continued to remain on the protection of the copyright of the publisher and on the reprinting of foreign works. During the short-lived annexation by France (1810-1813), the French Code pénal was in force which laid down the copyright of the author, but the establishment of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in fact meant a return to the Act of 1803. To the satisfaction of the publishers who were now united in the Vereeniging ter Bevordering van de Belangen des Boekhandels (Association for the Promotion of the Interests of the Book Trade) (1815), the main purpose of the Copyright Act of 25 January 1817, which would remain in force until the Copyright Act of 1881, was the protection against piracy of original works and translations of foreign works. The author was given the right to exploit his work commercially, but if he transferred his copyright to a publisher, which was the general practice, he no longer had any say in his own work.

Effective action against piracy was not assured under the Act of 1817, however. Criminal prosecution was so poorly regulated that the Vereeniging had to fight for decades against what was, in the eyes of many in the book trade, a pernicious practice.

author: P.G. Hoftijzer

Copyright and piracy