Made lack of copyright Germany the country of writers and thinkers?

According to historian Eckhard Höffner (see SPIEGEL), the book production in Germany in the 19th century was much higher than in France and Britain. In 1843, in Germany 14,000 titles were print, in Britain only 1,000. Höffner, who teaches at Viadrina University of Frankfurt/O., says that this was caused by the long time lack of copyright law. Prussia introduced it in 1837, but due to the political division it was difficult to grand copyrights in all Germany then.

Reprinters made it possible for many people to have books, in comparison to Britain were rich publishers sold expensive copies to a small, wealthy audience. In Germany publishers came out with luxury editions for the upper classes and cheap ones for the masses.


2 thoughts on “Made lack of copyright Germany the country of writers and thinkers?

  1. A very interesting read. The general principle is, obviously, something that I have heard from the anti-copyright faction on a few earlier occasions—and it certainly makes sense intuitively.

  2. There was a similar effect in the United States: local authors were protected, but any foreign writers had no copyright protection at all until 1891, and even then only if they published in the US first.

    As a result, there was widespread piracy of popular authors (notes on Dickens) which on the one hand was a good thing – it meant that wider culture was easily and cheaply spread across what was still quite a poor and rural nation – but on the other hand, probably meant that American writers didn’t get the readership they deserved, because they were outcompeted by cheap pirate imports.

    I suppose the moral there is that lack of copyright may work best when it’s all-or-nothing.

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