intellectual property, publishing, publication, copyright, contracts, licenses, Statute of Anne, books, authors, publishers, legal history, Milton, Coke

Document Type



Scholars have begun to appreciate the fundamental role that contracts played in the development of copyrights. Contracts gave copyrights vitalilty. This article explores the network of book publishing contracts that formed the legal infrastructure for a pre-modern “internet” at the dawn of copyright law in Great Britain in the eighteenth century. Drawing on insights from archival research, the article shows how this network of copyright contracts advanced an important goal of copyright: the spread of ideas and information throughout all parts of society. Appreciating the historical significance of copyright contracts provides valuable context for modern debates about copyright policy. Indeed, contracts matter as much as copyrights in fostering innovation in the modern information economy because contracts enable the beneficial sharing of ideas and information. This insight about contracts is particularly vital for those judges and lawmakers who make decisions about innovation policy, including the scope of copyright law’s first sale doctrine and the enforceability of software license agreements.



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