La Fontaine case, Paris (1761)

Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France : Mss. Fr. 22178 n° 16

La Fontaine case, Paris (1761), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,

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Decree of the King's Privy Council of State, which declares to be non-valid the objection raised by the booksellers of Paris to the privilege granted by His Majesty to the young ladies de La Fontaine; and which enjoins the Syndic and his adjuncts to register without delay the privileges and licences granted by His Majesty. 14 September 1761.

Full title original language:
Arrest du Conseil d'Etat privé du Roi, Qui déclare nulle l'opposition faite par les Libraires de Paris au privilège accordé par Sa Majesté aux demoiselles de la Fontaine ; & enjoint aux Syndic & Adjoints d'enregistrer sans délai les privilége & permissions accordés par Sa Majesté. Du 14 Septembre 1761.

The famous case of the granddaughters of Jean de La Fontaine was one of the most significant judicial reverses suffered by the Parisian Guild of Booksellers and Printers. At the time of this case, in 1761, almost forty years had passed since the memorandum of the guild's lawyer Louis d'Héricourt, who had proclaimed the author to be the titular holder of a natural property as a result of his creative labour. Denis Diderot would soon write down his famous 'Letter on the book trade' in the same spirit. But, most importantly, the provisions of the 1723 Code de la Librairie, regarding the duration of book trade privileges - not to speak of the more precise details on this point introduced in May 1725 - did not always allow for an effective reduction of the monopolies held by the Parisian corporation on the most profitable books, nor did they help very much in healing the rift with the provincial booksellers. Just as in England, the confrontation between the booksellers of the capital and those of the provinces was by that time becoming quite relentless. Somewhat ironically, however, in view of the approach taken by the lawyers of the Parisian guild ever since Héricourt, this judicial defeat resulted from claims raised by the authors themselves, and, in particular, by their heirs: henceforth the unlimited duration of exclusive rights to the benefit of the capital's booksellers, which had been upheld by the quasi-automatic renewals of privileges granted by the king, would seem to be seriously threatened by the author, and likewise by an 'inheritance right' vested in the latter's family. The Crébillon case, though it did not run its full course before the law courts, had testified to this development back in 1752, but it was above all the success of the granddaughters of La Fontaine nine years later which would have the most lasting repercussions.

1 Commentary:


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Author: N/A

Publisher: Royal Print

Year: 1761

Location: Paris

Language: French

Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France : Mss. Fr. 22178 n° 16

Persons referred to:
Babuty, François
Barbou, Jean Joseph
Barrois, Théophile
Brocas, Paul-Denis
David, Charles
Davidts, R.
Despilly, Jean-Baptiste
Duchesne, Nicolas Bonaventure
Durand, Laurent
Fournier, Pierre Simon
Knapen, André François
La Fontaine, Jean de
Le Clerc
Louis XV
Nyon, Jean-Luc, Sr.
Prault, Laurent-François
Roussel, M.
Taboureau des Réaux

Places referred to:

Cases referred to:
Affaire des Demoiselles de La Fontaine (1761)

Institutions referred to:
Chambre syndicale des libraires et imprimeurs (Paris)
Chancery of France ('Grande Chancellerie')
King's Council of State (France)
Parisian Guild of Booksellers and Printers


duration, prolongation of privileges
penalties, paid to publisher(s)
privileges, French
property theory, authors' property

Responsible editor: Frédéric Rideau

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