Fichte: Proof of the Unlawfulness of Reprinting, Berlin (1793)

Source: Berlinische Monatschrift (1793), 443-482

Fichte: Proof of the Unlawfulness of Reprinting, Berlin (1793), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,

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Full title:
Proof of the Unlawfulness of Reprinting: A Rationale and a Parable. In: Berlinische Monatschrift (1793), 443-482

Full title original language:
Beweis der Unrechtmäßigkeit des Büchernachdrucks. Ein Räsonnement und eine Parabel.

This article by the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) is sometimes described as a foundational text of what is generally referred to as the distinction between idea and expression in copyright law. Fichte identifies the permanent feature of a book as 'the form of the thoughts', the result of a two-fold abstraction: the intellectual part is abstracted from the physical part; and, then, within this intellectual part 'the form of the thoughts' is abstracted from the ideas. Hence there are three types of property in a book. The physical book as a full property is completely at the owner's disposal. The ideas, after being shared with the public, become a common property of the author and his readers. But the abstract form necessarily remains the author's property, because it is 'physically impossible' for this to be appropriated by another person. The commentary focuses on the late eighteenth-century discussion that Fichte was contributing to and on the impact of Fichte's theory on nineteenth-century German copyright.

1 Commentary:

  • Woodmansee, Martha, 'The Genius and the Copyright: Economic and Legal Conditions of the Emergence of the 'Author'', 'Eighteenth Century Studies' 17, nr 4 (1984): 425-448

  • Kretschmer, Martin and Friedemann Kawohl, 'The History and Philosophy of Copyright', in Simon Frith and Lee Marshall (eds), 'Music and Copyright' (Edinburgh U.P., 2004), 21-53

  • Kretschmer, Martin and Friedemann Kawohl, 'Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and the trap of Inhalt (content) and form: An information perspective on music copyright', in 'Information, Communication & Society' (forthcoming)

  • Borghi, Maurizio, 'Owning Form, Sharing Content: Natural-Right Copyright and Digital Environment', in Fiona MacMillan (ed.), 'New Directions in Copyright Law' (Edward Elgar Publishing: Cheltenham, 2007), 5: 197-222

Related documents in this database:

Author: Fichte, Johann Gottlieb (1762-1814)

Publisher: Haude and Spener

Year: 1793

Location: Berlin

Language: German

Source: Berlinische Monatschrift (1793), 443-482

Persons referred to:
Correggio, Antonio Allegri da
Fichte, Johann Gottlieb
Joseph II
Kant, Immanuel
Knigge, Adolph Baron von
Luther, Martin
Müller, Johann Gottwerth
Reimarus, Johann Albert Heinrich
Schmieder, Christian Gottlieb
Trattner, Johann Thomas von

Places referred to:

Cases referred to:

Institutions referred to:


Bible, the
attribute, obligation to
author/publisher relations
authors' remuneration
authorship, legal concept of
authorship, romantic concept of
authorship, theory of
copying, concept of
editions, new
learning, the advancement of
natural rights
property analogies
property theory, authors' property
public domain
public good
scholarly writing
scribal publication
translations, of classic works
unpublished works

Responsible editor: Friedemann Kawohl

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