Kehr: Apology of the Reprinting of Books, Kreuznach (1799)

Source: Scanned from a reprint edition (edited by Reinhard Wittmann, München 1981) taken from an the copy held in Universitäts- und Stadtbibliothek Köln

Kehr: Apology of the Reprinting of Books, Kreuznach (1799), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,

Back | Record | Images | Commentaries: [1]
Translation only | Transcription only | Show all | Bundled images as pdf

15 translated pages

Chapter 1 Page 1


of the




Ludwig Christian Kehr

Bookseller at Kreuznach.




Chapter 1 Page 3

      So much has already been written for
and against the reprinting of books, and
this subject has been treated so exhaustively
that there is almost nothing more that one
could say about it. But I, as a matter of fact,
haven't read anything about it yet; I haven't
been able yet to compare the various opinions
which have been expressed about it, nor to
draw a conclusion from the works that have
appeared so far which either condemn reprinting
or defend it. Thus, what I have to say about
this subject represents not the thoughts of
others, but my very own views, and since I am
firmly convinced of the beneficial effect which
reprinting has with regard to the public as a
whole, I am quite prepared to venture to boldly
defend it.
      There is no doubt that the greater or lesser
extent to which enlightenment makes progress in
the spheres of religion, the arts and sciences,
philology, history, agriculture, and indeed in all
other fields and specialities affected by it,
depends solely and entirely on the more or

Chapter 1 Page 4


less propitious state in which literature
finds itself, and as soon as enjoyment of
the latter is restricted to a specific
privileged group from amongst the public,
it will only be this individual group which
is able to keep abreast with progress, where-
as the non-privileged, that is, the greater
proportion of the public will be left behind,
meaning that the very purpose of instructive
and formative literature is completely lost.
      Many well-off book-lovers buy
books, so that they can put them on display
on the shelves of their private libraries, but
they do not in fact read them. It is perhaps
really only a minority amongst them which
makes use of the books they have purchased,
and therefore many a useful work can be likened
to a healthy grain of seed which has unfortunate-
ly been scattered on barren soil. Less well-to-do
readers have to forgo any hope of acquiring
good books, which may in fact be indispensable to
them, simply because their prices are so excessive
as to deter any potential buyers. And, indeed,
most of our country's scholarly works seem to be
intended solely for the private libraries of
the rich.
      It is reprinting alone which can curb this
baleful evil and counteract it.

Chapter 1 Page 5


For reprinting leads to the
dissemination of good books which are
beneficial to the whole community, and,
as a result, the less affluent members
of the public are given the opportunity
to satisfy their thirst for literature
at as low a cost to themselves as
possible. Consequently, no useful book
will ever again be lost to the wider
public, and those that have already been
forgotten will be rescued from the
obscurity in which they had been shrouded.
It would be superfluous to give examples,
since countless instances of this are
already widely known.
      Besides, the public - most certainly
a very important judge - has long ago
decided in favour of reprinting, and every
'Reichsbuchhändler'* will have observed
how most of his clients will not buy an
original edition of a book, if a reprint
of it is already available.
      Before I come to answer the question
as to whether reprinting in itself is a
legitimate action, and whether it really
does infringe on another's property, I should
first like to provide a brief explanation
of the word 'Nettobuchhändler'**, since I will
have to use it a number of times in what


* lit. 'a bookseller from regions of the
Empire' [other than Leipzig and, generally
speaking, northern Germany]. This term was
used to refer to the mainly south German
barter-trading publishers and booksellers
who tried to oppose the reforms of the
book trade initiated by Philipp Erasmus
Reichs and other fellow publishers from
the north.

** 'Nettobuchhändler' were those publishers and
booksellers, led by the Leipzig-based Philipp
Erasmus Reich, who in the second half of the
18th c. went over from the traditional barter
system of book trading to demanding cash
payments ('Nettopreis' = 'net price') from
the retailers who wished to acquire their
publications. See the commentary for d_1799.

Chapter 1 Page 6


      Booksellers in general can be
divided into two categories:* barter-
trading ones ['Sortimentsbuchhändler']
and those who sell their titles for
cash payments ['Nettobuchhändler'].
      'Sortimentsbuchhändler' are those
who put in store most of the works that
come out in Germany, in order to make
them available for their customers. They
barter those books which they have
themselves published for the titles of
other booksellers, and after the annual
accounts have been closed by each such
trader, he will pay any surpluses in
cash to those colleagues of his with
whom he had exchanged books, and they
likewise to him. This category of book-
sellers is in the most precarious position
because their whole business depends on
risk-taking, and their assets consist
entirely of paper, of which only a small
part is converted into cash in hand every
now and then, depending on how lucky or
unlucky one was when choosing titles from
those offered at the fair. It is certain
that the many inconveniences, the strenuous
efforts which have to be made in various
respects, and the risk involved in such
barter-trading with books by far outweigh
the small profit it may yield, and I
would like to


* Again, please see the commentary for d_1799.

Chapter 1 Page 7


argue that only a very tiny number of such
barter-trading booksellers can survive
without dealing in reprints.
      The 'Nettobuchhändler', that is, those
who operate on the basis of cash payments, are
usually just publishers/printers or those book-
sellers who bring their titles to the Leipzig
fair and sell them to other book traders for
cash. They do not accept anyone else's books in
exchange for theirs, and thus what they take
home with them is never waste-paper, but always
hard cash! The risk they incur is therefore far
less, especially bearing in mind that they have
ties to the most well-known authors, whom they
pay very well for the products of their intellect,
and who therefore compel the 'Sortimentsbuchhändler'
to buy their publications whether they like it or
not, since the latter cannot afford not to have in
stock many of the titles published or sold by the
      But this does not lead to any benefits neither
for the 'Sortimentsbuchhändler', nor for the public
as such. The former have to spend several thousand
thaler of hard cash on purchasing books at the
Leipzig fair at their own risk, whereby it is usually
the case that two thirds of these books end up as
waste-paper - and the

Chapter 1 Page 8


public has to pay quite considerable sums
for the publications of the 'Nettobuchhändler',
since as a rule the latter set tremendously
high prices. If readers wish to acquire these
books, they effectively have to acquiesce in
being cheated by the 'Nettobuchhändler', but it
is of course the local retailers, the 'Sortiments-
buchhändler', whom they will drive mad with
their complaints about the high prices, although
it is not at all the retailers' fault: it is not
through their arbitrariness that the prices are
raised so high.
      It was probably this very unjust procedure
on the part of the 'Nettobuchhändler' which
originally gave rise to reprinting. If these
profiteers were to charge fairer prices, then
they would surely be spared the scourge of the
reprinters, and the public would no longer have
any grounds for complaining about swindles.
      Now, there is no hope that these literary
abuses will ever change for the better. On the
contrary, this evil seems to be spreading about
ever more, since the number of 'Nettobuchhändler'
is not decreasing, but increasing with each year
that passes, so that the barter system of book
trading, and

Chapter 1 Page 9


therefore also the very state of literature
as such, are on the verge of utter ruin.
      Reprinting is the only way to prevent
this catastrophe and to set bounds to the
disgraceful profiteering of the 'Nettobuch-
händler'. For, thanks to reprinting, good
and valuable works from all fields of
scholarship can be disseminated rapidly,
and everyone who has need of them can
acquire them for a price which does not make
extortionate and shameless demands on
one's purse. - Likewise, the barter-trading
booksellers are no longer compelled so
inexorably to take enormous sums of money
with them to Leipzig, to pay the 'Netto-
buchhändler', because they can obtain the
best titles published or sold by the latter
in a much more advantageous manner from the
reprinters, and also because, in view of
the fairer prices, the public prefers to buy
reprints rather than original editions.
      Naturally, both the 'Nettobuchhändler'
and the authors make a terrible fuss about the
reprinters, calling them rascals, scoundrels,
and robbers, without pausing to think that
the reprinter

Chapter 1 Page 10


for his part would certainly be entitled to
address most of them with these very names,
and that the public will necessarily concur
with him in this. For which of the two
deserves to be called a robber? - Someone who
satisfies the needs of the public in the
fairest possible way, or someone who cheats
readers and customers in the most brazen
fashion? Surely it is the latter?!
      Booksellers and writers are members
of civil society, just like merchants and
artisans - they have the same obligations
as these, and they must conform equally to
the laws and norms of this society. If a
whole guild of, say, shoemakers or tailors
decides to collude in cheating the people
for whom they are supposed to be working,
then the authorities will without fail
intervene and impose taxes on their wares,
thereby thwarting their profiteering plans.
Or people will simply engage the services
of artisans in the nearest village or town,
where the prices charged are more reasonable.
But since quite different circumstances
apply in the case of the book trade, given that
books across the

Chapter 1 Page 11


whole of Germany have identical prices,
because one may neither raise or lower
the price that has been set by the
publisher once and for all; and since,
moreover, there is still no law-court
specifically designated to deal with
booksellers and writers, and since, as
far as I am aware, no local authorities
anywhere in the Empire have ever remonst-
rated against literary swindles of the
kind practised by the 'Nettobuchhändler',
it is only natural that the reprinters
stood up to defend the interests of the
public and to avenge such injustices.
      Every worker is worth his wage!
The writer, too, wants to be remunerated
for his intellectual work just as much
as the artisan for his handiwork. But
neither of the two is entitled to make
excessive claims. If writers were to
observe more scrupulously the principle
of suum cuique*, and, when laying down
the terms of their fee, to show more
consideration for the public, the prices of
books really would fall, and reprinting
would be cut down. But as it is, they
avariciously try to make the most out
of their talents, and are quite willing
to be paid at a rate worthy of Jewish
money-lenders, as a result of which
the public must inevitably suffer.


* Lat. 'to each his own' - the famous
phrase coined by Cicero.

Chapter 1 Page 12


      These exorbitant fee demands on the
part of the authors can in no way serve
as a justification for the 'Nettobuchhändler'.
For why do the latter acquiesce in these
horrendous demands, and why do they all try
to outbid each other in securing the
collaboration of certain authors, as if they
were at an auction? Because they say to
themselves: "We'll let the public pay for it!",
and, indeed, the public does have to pay for
it, if it wishes to get hold of these books!
      Seeing that this is the way matters stand,
authors are certainly not wrong in saying:
"The 'Reichsbuchhändler'* are unable to pay
us; it is only scribblers and mediocre, shallow
minds who will offer their manuscripts to them
for publication!" - and consequently they will
certainly prefer to take the products of their
intellectual labour to the 'Nettobuchhändler'
because these are able to draw ready money from
their wares and incur less risks than the
'Sortimentsbuchhändler', who takes home from
the fair essentially just paper! However, the
'Reichsbuchhändler' would certainly be in a
position to pay commensurate fees and to
thereby drive out the host of


* See the note on p.5 for an explanation of
this term, which is essentially synonimous
with 'Sortimentsbuchhändler' in this context.

Chapter 1 Page 13


mediocre scribblers, if the claims made
by the better writers actually conformed
to the rules of fairness and justness.
      The reproach one often hears from the
'Nettobuchhändler' - namely, that the 'Reichs-
buchhändler' devote too little care to
the typographic quality of their publications
- is, alas!, not entirely unfounded. Never-
theless, many of the latter can easily exhibit
books produced by them which, as far as the
elegance of their typographic attire is
concerned, readily stand comparison with the
best publications of the 'Nettobuchhändler'
and need not fear being overshadowed by these.
I personally cannot pick up a book that has
been printed in an ugly and tasteless fashion
without feeling disgust, yet, however much I
set store by the quality and stylishness
of a print, I cannot bring myself to approve
of excessive luxuriance in the layout of
books because the consequence of this is to
make them all the more expensive.
      Reprinting does NOT violate another
person's property right.
      The author sells his manuscript to
a publisher, who pays him

Chapter 1 Page 14


the fee asked by him, supplies him
with the requested number of free copies,
and, in general, fulfils all the conditions
that had been mutually agreed on. As a
result, the author no longer has any right
to his manuscript, for it is the property of
the publisher. The latter arranges for it
to be printed, and sells the copies thus
produced to the public. These sold copies
are then no longer his property, and he is
not entitled to make any further claims with
regard to them. Let us imagine I have bought
one of these copies, and that I had to pay
dearly for it. Yes, it hurts me to feel that
I have been cheated, but I had no other
choice because that book was indispensable
to me. Now, one of my friends asks me to
copy out the book for him in exchange for
some form of remuneration because he, too,
finds the price of a shelf-copy of the book
excessively high. I satisfy his wish, devote
my hours of leisure to copying out the book,
and thereby eventually obtain a little bit
of remuneration. But then various other friends
come along with the same request: I, however,
do not have sufficient time or patience to
copy out the book so many times, and what I do,
instead, is to have it printed, so that I can
satisfy them all. The book was MY property, since

Chapter 1 Page 15

after all, I had paid for it dearly
enough, and neither the author nor the
publisher has any right to protest about
this - for the former had sold it to
the latter, and he in his turn had sold
it to me - and I am entitled to do
whatever I please with my own property -
all the more so, given that the purpose
of my actions is to benefit others.
      What else is the deluxe edition of
Wieland's "Complete Works"* or that of
Klopstock's "Works"** if not a reprint?
Wieland made amendments to his already
published works, and Göschen in Leipzig
printed these improved texts without
making any previous arrangement with the
original publisher. Göschen brought out
not just a number of expensive editions,
but also a cheaper [standard] edition.***
He is therefore also a reprinter (in
addition to being a 'Nettobuchhändler'),
but with the one difference: that he
raises the prices of the reprinted wares,
whereas the other reprinters lower them.
One wonders which of the two, from the
economic point of view, does more good
to the public?
      Furthermore, reprinting cannot be
illegal also for the simple reason that


* The legendary quarto edition of Wieland's
"Complete Works", brought out in 36 volumes
by the Leipzig-based publisher G. J. Göschen
between 1794 and 1802. Online reference:

** Another major edition undertaken by Göschen
in seven volumes between 1798 and 1809.

*** In 1798, at the same time as he started
publication of the deluxe edition of Klopstock's
"Works", Göschen also began to publish a 'Normal-
ausgabe' of these (the twelfth and final volume
of which appeared in 1817).

Chapter 1 Page 16


the Emperor actually endorses it through
privileges. Schmieder in Karlsruhe is in
possession of an Imperial privilege which
entitles him to reprint whatever he wants!
The only thing is that he paid for his
privilege, whereas in my view it is in
fact irrelevant whether one reprints with
or without a privilege - because the
substance of the action remains the same.

      One could most readily do without
'Nettobuchhändler' - but this is by no means
the case with the 'Sortimentsbuchhändler'. I
would therefore recommend to the former that
they either limit themselves to operate solely
as book printers in the narrowest sense of
the word - because they will then have a
sphere of action in which they can be of use
to others - or that they also adopt the
barter system when dealing in books, since
this is the only way in which the book
trade can be saved, and, if they go about it
in a reasonable and fair way, it is also
the only way that all reprinters can be
eliminated to the last one!



* Lat. 'I have spoken!', i.e. 'I have said
what I had to say'.

Translation by: Luis Sundkvist


Copyright History resource developed in partnership with:

Our Partners

Copyright statement

You may copy and distribute the translations and commentaries in this resource, or parts of such translations and commentaries, in any medium, for non-commercial purposes as long as the authorship of the commentaries and translations is acknowledged, and you indicate the source as Bently & Kretschmer (eds), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900) (

With the exception of commentaries that are available under a CC-BY licence (compliant with UKRI policy) you may not publish individual documents or parts of the database for any commercial purposes, including charging a fee for providing access to these documents via a network. This licence does not affect your statutory rights of fair dealing.

Although the original documents in this database are in the public domain, we are unable to grant you the right to reproduce or duplicate some of these documents in so far as the images or scans are protected by copyright or we have only been able to reproduce them here by giving contractual undertakings. For the status of any particular images, please consult the information relating to copyright in the bibliographic records.

Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900) is co-published by Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge, 10 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DZ, UK and CREATe, School of Law, University of Glasgow, 10 The Square, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK