Millar v Taylor

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Millar v Taylor (1769) 4 Burr. 2303, 98 ER 201 is an English court decision that held there is a perpetual common law copyright and that no works ever enter the public domain. It represented a major victory for the bookseller monopolies.

Facts[edit]

Andrew Millar was a bookseller who in 1729 had purchased the publishing rights to James Thomson's poem "The Seasons." After the term of the exclusive rights granted under the Statute of Anne expired, Robert Taylor began publishing his own competing publication, which contained Thomson's poem.

Following the passage of the first copyright law, the Statute of Anne, the practice of the English publishing monopolies had not changed much, even though the purpose of the new law was to break up the monopolies that had been created by the English Crown, which had served, in part, as a basis for the previous English Civil War. Despite the Statute of Anne's changes to the statutory law, the publishing monopolies continued to claim exclusive publishing rights under common law. Starting in the 1740s, London booksellers presented that argument in a series of court cases.

Judgment[edit]

The Court of the King's Bench, led by Lord Mansfield (with Aston and Willes JJ concurring in judgment, Sir Joseph Yates dissenting), sided with the publishers, finding that common law rights were not extinguished by the Statute of Anne. Under Mansfield's ruling, the publishers had a perpetual common law right to publish a work for which they had acquired the rights. Thus, no amount of time would cause the work to pass to the public. The ruling essentially eliminated the concept of the public domain by holding that when the statutory rights granted by the statute expired, the publisher was still left with common law rights to the work. Millar died shortly after the ruling and it was never appealed. As an English court, however, the court's decision did not extend to Scotland, where a reprint industry continued to thrive. The existence of a common-law copyright, however, was later rejected by a Scottish court in Hinton v. Donaldson. The issue was ultimately resolved against the London publishing monopolies in the landmark case of Donaldson v. Beckett. Despite being overturned, the case of Millar v. Taylor remains an important case in the development and history of copyright law.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  • Paul Goldstein. Copyright's Highway: From Gutenberg to the Celestial Jukebox. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.
  • Lawrence Lessig. Free Culture. New York: Penguin Press, 2004.
  • Lyman Ray Patterson. Copyright in Historical Perspective. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968.
  • Lyman Ray Patterson and Stanley W. Lindberg. The Nature of Copyright: A Law of Users' Rights. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1991.