Copyright Law: Standing in the Way of Progress

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In the early part of the 19th century Germany was still very much an agriculturally based and rural society, while England was well on its way to complete industrialization.

Höffner has researched that early heyday of printed material in Germany and reached a surprising conclusion – unlike neighboring England and France, Germany experienced an unparalleled explosion of knowledge in the 19th century.

German authors during this period wrote ceaselessly. Around 14,000 new publications appeared in a single year in 1843. Measured against population numbers at the time, this reaches nearly today’s level. And although novels were published as well, the majority of the works were academic papers.

Much of what was published in Germany during this time was technical, for example:

Sigismund Hermbstädt…a chemistry and pharmacy professor in Berlin, who has long since disappeared into the oblivion of history, earned more royalties for his “Principles of Leather Tanning” published in 1806 than British author Mary Shelley did for her horror novel “Frankenstein,” which is still famous today.

In contrast to the situation in Germany, the volume of works published in England was rather miniscule:

Indeed, only 1,000 new works appeared annually in England at that time – 10 times fewer than in Germany – and this was not without consequences. Höffner believes it was the chronically weak book market that caused England, the colonial power, to fritter away its head start within the span of a century, while the underdeveloped agrarian state of Germany caught up rapidly, becoming an equally developed industrial nation by 1900.

England, which had almost a one century head start in industrialization, and a centuries-long advantage in international trade, was unable to maintain it superior industrial position as compared to Germany.

But it is the reason behind this, according to Höffner, that is the most interesting:

Authors, now guaranteed the rights to their own works, were often annoyed by this development. Heinrich Heine, for example, wrote to his publisher Julius Campe on October 24, 1854, in a rather acerbic mood: “Due to the tremendously high prices you have established, I will hardly see a second edition of the book anytime soon. But you must set lower prices, dear Campe, for otherwise I really don’t see why I was so lenient with my material interests.”

As to the remuneration to authors for their work, Höffner indicates that authors in Germany enjoyed a higher relative income than did authors in England:

Germany: The average payment for a book was about a quarter up to an half of the yearly income of an academic member of the middle class. Many books on any topics were written, published and paid.

Reprinted with permission from the Bionic Mosquito.

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