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Memorandum on the dispute between the Parisian and the provincial booksellers, Paris (1690s)

Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France : Mss. Fr. 22071 n° 177

Memorandum on the dispute between the Parisian and the provincial booksellers, Paris (1690s), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org

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                  MEMORANDUM on the dispute which
is going on between the booksellers of Paris and those of
Lyon with regard to privileges and the prolongations
which the King grants for the printing of books.
      Today isn’t the first time that the Council hears
about disputes between booksellers regarding privileges & the
prolongations which one can obtain for editions of
books, and if it has not yet been able to settle these disputes,
it is without doubt because no one thus far has taken the
trouble to explain to it the nature and usage of such privileges.
      First of all, it seems that by this word ‘privilege’ one
should simply understand an individual favour, truly founded
on some merit or other, but which nevertheless still is an
exception from the public right. However, in the book trade it
is quite the opposite. For in addition to the fact that, on the
one hand, this favour takes the place of a reward to
individuals who are risking their possessions [leur bien] and
are making use of their cares and troubles to bring some
fine works [ouvrages] to light, the public thereby receives
and enjoys an advantage which is all the more significant,
given that it would not have been able at all to enjoy the use
of such fine works if it hadn’t been for the risks and expenses,
the care and attention, of these individuals who thus acquire
a right to them and a sort of property which it would be
unjust to begrudge them. In order to fully understand
these truths and to see clearly what privileges actually are,
it is necessary to realize that the book trade comprises
two sorts of books, and that there are also two sorts
of privileges.
      All the books which are printed boil down to two
types, which can be divided into common sorts [sortes communes]
and particular sorts [sortes particulieres].
      The common sorts comprise all the books &
all the books [sic.] written by the Ancients who did not

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reserve to themselves any right to them, or by foreigners
who have not obtained any rights to them in France, or,
finally, by other authors who have relinquished to the
public the private right which they might otherwise
have to their own works.
      The particular sorts include all the books
which have been produced for the first time in this Kingdom
by the individual industry of a bookseller or by the labour
of an author who cedes to the latter his work and his right,
in some way which the two of them have agreed on
      This distinction between the sorts of books results
in a distinction between the privileges which the King
grants for printing them.
      The privileges for books comprised under the
category of ‘common sort’ books are favours which really
can be regarded as exceptions from the common right –
exceptions which, all the same, still have to be extended
for the benefit of individuals who have exposed themselves
to losses of some kind in serving the public, especially if
their privileges do not directly and significantly encroach
on another’s right.
      But privileges for particular sorts [sortes particulieres] of books
belong to those acts of beneficence which the King can
avail himself of, in order to honour and reward the
merit of those subjects of his who obtain them;
And these benefactions which depend solely on him [the King],
without affecting in any way the right of anyone else,
are indeed so much the more favourable that they even
ought to be perpetual. And if they are not so, it is simply
because of the prudence of the prince who uses his
favours carefully, so as to have more frequent opportunities
for acknowledging and encouraging his subjects’ industry;
apart from the fact, moreover, that it would be quite futile
in the book trade to grant a perpetual privilege for
something that is never perpetually profitable, since it
is well known that books have their day,
just as they have their fate.*
      This distinction between privileges is not new
in the book trade. There is an example of it in the
judgement on a law-suit which seems to have been the first
to be conducted between booksellers on this matter,
and whose background and judicial outcome

*) A famous saying derived from a verse in a didactic poem
by the Roman grammarian Terentianus Maurus: Pro captu
lectoris habent sua fata libelli
(‘Books have their destinies
according to the capacity of their readers’).

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it is quite helpful to know about in this respect.
      During the first century of printing, which
began around the year 1450, printers were occupied in
making public the works of the Church Fathers and of
lay authors, the manuscripts of which were to be found
in the libraries of princes and some private individuals.
But since a shortage of copies of these editions started to
make itself felt towards the middle of the last century,
the printers have been compelled to republish those which
the public has need of.
      This is what we learn from Rebuffé’s book about
privileges and the universities, in which he says that
printers were forced to do these [republications], because,
as the jurists of his time argued, given that printers
were the successors of the medieval copyists, they could
be compelled to print just as the latter were compelled
to write on the grounds of the public good, ratione
utilitatis publicae
, to which he adds that this was determined
so by the King in his Council, on pain of corporal punishment,
because, so he says, the injury which the public would
otherwise suffer, not being reparable by monetary fines,
demanded an exemplary punishment, and he cites in this
respect a Court ruling of 15 April, 1590, concerning the
printers of Lyon.
      The printers, having thus committed themselves to
considerable advances for the printing of books, ventured,
in order to somehow cover themselves against the risks
which they had to run due to the long time it took for their
books to be sold, to request letters [patent] by which every
other printer was prohibited from printing the same book
until the new edition [of the first printer] had been sold out,
and this was granted to them for a fixed term.
      The success of this expedient gave some booksellers
the idea of obtaining similar letters [patent] for books
which they foresaw would sell better than others, and of
thereby claiming the exclusive right to print and sell them
for a certain time; But the same thing that was the origin
of privileges in the book trade also became the cause of
several law-suits between booksellers. The first such one
which we encounter is that between Giunti and Tinghi,
two Florentine booksellers who were based in Lyon,
which is cited in the margin of p.1089 of the Conference
des ordonnances
, where one can see that in a ruling of
7 December, 1579, the Court ordered that existing
privileges were not to be recognized at all except where
they were for books that hadn’t yet

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been printed in the past (here we have the particular
sorts), and, with regard to other books which were
to be printed (that is, the common sorts), these could be
freely printed by all printers who wished and were able
to do so.
      This judgement shows that from that time on books
which were given to the public by the Ancients, who did
not reserve for themselves any right to them, or by foreigners
who enjoy such a right only in their own countries, are
absolutely of public right [sont de droit public],
and that, consequently, all booksellers and printers should
be entitled to print them. Secondly, it proves that books of
recent composition, produced by the labour of a modern
author or by the industry of a bookseller, are all the more
of private right [sont de droit particulier],
given that no one else, apart from that author or bookseller,
could possibly claim any sort of property in them.
      And yet the booksellers of Lyon, like those predatory fish
which trouble the waters, in order to surprise the other fish, would
like to mix up these two sorts of privileges, and claim that such
privileges are all equally odious and ought to be eliminated
rather than being extended. Wherefrom they draw the unjust
conclusion that after an author or his bookseller has enjoyed [the
possession of] a book for the duration of a first privilege, he
must not be granted a prolongation, but, rather, that it is to be
enjoyed by him who is the most adept at seizing it. It is as if a
private individual, after having enjoyed, for six or eight years,
a well which he had built in his house, were to be expected to
relinquish the enjoyment of it to that neighbour of his who
was unwilling or incapable of building one in his own house.
      But before discussing the captious means which the
provincial booksellers are keen to put to use, it is helpful to
show the use in practice of privileges, whose different
categories we have just explained, and at the same time to
give examples of all the abuses which one can encounter
in this field.

The usage of privileges for editions
of the common sort

      In the past privileges were not taken out for books
of the common sorts, everybody being entitled to print them,
and once a bookseller had undertaken the publication of
one such sort, the others would

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come to arrangements with him by exchanging with
him some books which they had printed. Likewise, privileges
were not obtained for the particular sorts either until the
booksellers started flouting that age-old honesty which
they once showed towards one another, and which is still
preserved so well in England, whereby after a bookseller
has been the first to produce a good book, the others
regard it as a property [bien] of which he is the sole legitimate
owner – even to the extent that this right passes on to
his heirs, just as if it had been acquired by letters of ???. But in
France the liberty which certain printers have taken in
producing all sorts of books without examination and
permission, and in counterfeiting those of their colleagues,
has forced our King to prohibit, by several rulings [arrets]
which have been confirmed by the Edict of 21 August, 1686,
the printing of any book whatsoever without obtaining
permission for this beforehand by letters patent of the Great
Seal, which is what we call privileges.
      Booksellers are therefore obliged to obtain privileges
for all the books which they print, these being, as we have
just said, either of the common sort or the particular sort.
      The common sorts have either been purely copied from
ancient or foreign editions, or modified by means of some annotations,
notes, embellishments, or other differences.
      The privilege for a common sort [of book] which has just
been imitated or copied without any modification, is, strictly
speaking, no more than a printing permission whose sole purpose
it is to uphold the public order, so that nothing is printed without
previous examination. Taking into account the advances
which the bookseller who obtains such a privilege has to make
on behalf of the public, all others are forbidden to print the
same book for a certain time, [but] this does not mean at all that
they are not entitled to have copies of previous editions, or
even to order these from abroad, since what is of public
right [qui est de droit public] cannot become of private
right [devenir de droit particulier] at all. Thus, if such a privilege were to grant
the exclusion of all previous or foreign editions, it would have to
be revoked as abusive or as having been obtained from the Chancery by
surreptitious means. See the following example of this:
      The Sieur Lejeune de Franqueville obtained, on 16 November,
1691, a privilege for two books, in which the title of one of them
is given as Le miroir de l’art et de la nature, bearing the prohibition,
not only

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to print, counterfeit, or imitate it, but even to sell it or
distribute any foreign editions. This book, which in his
dedicatory epistle he claims cost him a lot of trouble to
bring to light, was actually published more than forty years
ago by Comenius, the author of Janua Linguarum and of
several other books; And the edition which served the
Sieur Lejeune as the original was based on a large number
of other such editions produced in Nuremberg in 1679. The
only trouble he has taken is to have read the name of the
book’s author, disguised its title accordingly, and left
out one language, namely Italian; And instead of the two
écus which the original in 4 languages costs, he asks a
whole louis d’or for the copy in 3 languages. It is true that
the illustrations which he has arranged to be inserted in
taille douce [line engraving] in his copy show quite clearly
that the engraver tried to make them resemble the
woodcuts in the original; but all this is not enough to
convince one that he did not use deception to obtain this
prohibition against the import of foreign editions, so
contrary as it is to common justice and the freedom of trade
between publishing houses, which really would be worthy of
lamentation if by such exclusions they were to be deprived
of the means of doing business with foreigners, and as a result
of the ability to clear their stocks of the books which they
print, for there is [often] not enough demand for the whole
edition in France alone. The public would also suffer quite a
bit as a result of this, since, after having enjoyed for many
years the use of a book which is helpful to all those who are
studying one of these 4 languages, they would not just be
deprived of it by virtue of the Sieur Lejeune’s privilege, but
also forced to buy at double the price what is less profitable
[in the educational sense] by a quarter. So here we have one
type of privilege which the booksellers of Lyon, as well as
all others, would certainly be entitled to complain about,
especially if a prolongation were to be granted for it.
      The privileges which are obtained for the other common
sorts [of books], that is those which are printed with some
modifications or augmentations, should not, any more than
the privileges discussed earlier, grant the exclusion of previous
editions, regardless of whether these are of ancient authors
or whether they come from abroad. It is evident that the
notes, modifications, or embellishments which are added
to such works, the alterations in type, form, volume, and all
the other differences which might be made to it, being
the result of a private individual’s industry, are of a particular
right and deserve a privilege that excludes all subsequent
editions that might happen to be produced with the same
modifications or augmentations,

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but not so any previous editions, which should always be and
remain of common right [demeurer de droit commun]
– for example:
      The Reverend Benedictine Fathers of the Congregation of
St Maur have a privilege for the works of St Augustine
which they have arranged to be printed with significant
modifications and notes. There is a tome on the Psalms which
is used more frequently than the other ones, and of which
a separate edition has been prepared by virtue of their general
privilege which grants the exclusion of all other editions. But
this should not be understood to include previous editions of all
the works of this Church Father or of this separate tome,
regardless of whether these have been produced in our Kingdom
or elsewhere; For though it is definitely true that this privilege
should exclude all editions which might be produced subsequently
in imitation of theirs, with the same notes and the same
alterations, which belong to the realm of these scholarly monks’
private property, it would be a great abuse if, under the pretext
of this general exclusion, they were to insist on preventing
people from owning or importing copies of previous editions,
which beyond all question are always of public right, and it
would not be fair if a private individual or some private
Community were to obtain a retroactive right to these, as
their privilege would be in such a case. Besides, these
Reverend Fathers do not make these copies, and the booksellers
of Lyon or from other places are always entitled to reprint
the whole of St Augustine and his commentary on the Psalms,
whenever they wish to, using the ancient copies, and to
import editions published in Antwerp or elsewhere.
      In addition to the common sorts [of books] without
modifications, the privileges for which can only be
exclusive for a limited period, and the common sorts with
modifications or augmentations, whose privileges may be
perpetual in view of these modifications or augmentations,
there are three other types of books which, whilst being
of common right, can nevertheless become of private right
through the labour of an author or the industry of
a bookseller. These are translations, dictionaries and church

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On translations and dictionaries

      Translations and dictionaries, which are naturally
of common right, because everyone is entitled to
produce them, become of private right for those who
make them, without, though, affecting the right of others.
That is, a private individual who has produced either a
translation or a dictionary can certainly, by virtue of the
privilege which he will have obtained, prevent others from
counterfeiting his dictionary or translation, but it would be
unjust if he were to be able to extend his privilege as far as to
prohibit others from preparing a dictionary of the same language or a
translation of the same book. This would not only go against
public interest, but also against all the rules of equity and
good administration. For where are the grounds for saying
that, since someone has made quite a good dictionary or
quite a good translation, everyone else should be forbidden
to make a better dictionary or a better translation? Or, this
being something that happens all too often, where the first
person has not produced anything of value, for saying that
in order to reward him, anyone coming after him should be
prohibited from making a better job of it? Would this not
be something absurd?

Example for the case of translations

      Monsieur Dubois, who has furnished the public with
several highly esteemed translations, has obtained a privilege
for his translation of the Confessions of St Augustine, whereby
it is forbidden not only to counterfeit it, but even to print, during
the course of 20 years, any other translation of this book without
his consent in writing. If a private individual had devoted his time
to writing another translation of the Confessions of St Augustine,
would he not have good reason to complain if this impediment
were to be put in the way of the publication of his work [ouvrage]?
This would be all the more unjust, given that it could well be the
case that that individual had undertaken this translation merely
out of charity towards the public, and not for the sake of deriving
a huge remuneration from his work, as is nowadays the case with
the majority of authors, who thereby cause works [les ouvrages] to
be sold at higher prices to the public.
      Since this clause is so contrary to common right, it would be a
just reason for revoking the privilege, if Monsieur Dubois were to
invoke it against a bookseller who wished to reprint the
old translations, or even a new one by any

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other author. In such a case one could equally well use against
Monsieur Dubois himself a similar privilege granted to Estienne and
Pierre Le Petit for the translation of the same Confessions
of St Augustine by Monsieur Arnaud Dandilly, and this with all
the more justification, given that the King had granted this extraordinary
favour to the said Le Petit in consideration of the great loss
which he had suffered because of the fire at the College de Montaigu,
in which his store-house was wholly burnt down. However,
there is no reason to suppose that Monsieur Dubois is intending to
prevent other translations or is inclined to abuse of his privilege;
Rather, it seems that, having taken as his model the privilege of
Estienne and Le Petit, he did not pause to think about the grounds
for this uncommon favour, which seemed so extraordinary to
Le Petit himself, that he never actually availed himself of it, as
one can see from the translation by Monsieur Dubois, against the
publication of which he did not protest at all. The booksellers of
Lyon would therefore be even more entitled to complain about
such a privilege, and with all the more reason, given that it would
be entirely up to Monsieur Dubois’s publisher to decide for
how high a price he might care to sell his book, because he would
be safe from all competition that might be posed by other
translations, old or new alike, which are normally sold for
much better prices than that of Monsieur Dubois.

Example for the case of dictionaries

      The Gentlemen of the Académie française have a privilege
for their Dictionary of our language, whereby everyone else
is prohibited from producing one for the same language.
      This prohibition is not only contrary to common law
and public utility, in that it appropriates to a private
company the exclusive right to create a dictionary and that
it denies this right to all those who might be capable of
working on such a project; nay, it also affords no advantage
to the Gentlemen of the Académie and their publisher,
since it is obvious that even if fifty private individuals were
to create fifty dictionaries, these would not be, neither as a
whole nor any of them separately, the same as the dictionary
of the Académie; and that the labour carried out by these fifty
private individuals is all the less capable of encroaching on
that of the Académie, given that nobody would have

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the same authority as the Académie has to decide the true
meaning of the words in our language. But what seems
most extraordinary of all is that these Gentlemen should
have wanted to give to the right in a work [ouvrage] an
age which would be 40 or 50 years longer than that of
the work itself, and to keep everyone waiting for such a
long time, as well as forcing the most legitimate
rights of the public to submit to this type of prohibition.
If their work had at least appeared immediately after the
institution of such an exorbitant right, the public would
perhaps have been able to draw some consolation for
this usurpation on its liberty by finding useful things in
their dictionary; But is there anything harsher to bear
than to see how one is forbidden the use of a present
???, which one has need of, and told to wait for another
one for such a long time and in vain, consoled only by
the hope that the latter might perhaps be better made?
      It is known to everyone that it is on the strength of
this very privilege that some of the Gentlemen of the
Académie have prevented the publication in Paris of
Richelet’s Dictionnaire, as well as that of Furetière.
And it would be futile to pretend that that of Richelet
had simply been forbidden because of the bad things
which his impetuosity or his ill-governed morals
had allowed to creep into it, since one could have
ordered him to remove these before granting him a
permission, or to cut them out after he had published
it in Geneva and reprinted it in France, rather than
tolerating, contrary to the interests of commerce and
government policy, foreigners to come to our
Kingdom’s very capital and carry off its wealth. For
this is definitely what they are doing – not just with
Richelet’s Dictionnaire but even more so with that of
Furetière, of which the Dutch have extracted at least
2,000 écus from the purses of the King’s subjects,
who could have been supplied with this book by the
booksellers of Paris for twenty thousand francs, if
the latter had been allowed to print it. So this means
a constant loss of 40,000 [écus] for France, and more
than 30,000 in profits for her enemies. Now, if the
Gentlemen of the Académie had any disadvantage
to fear from the printing of these two books, they
might perhaps be forgiven a bit for having obstructed
this publication; However, apart from the fact that
they know full well that their project is completely
different to that of these two dictionaries, which
would not harm sales

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of theirs even after it came to be published, how
could they doubt that if the impression [of these dictionaries]
was not undertaken in France, it would not fail to be done
somewhere else, and that editions would enter our
Kingdom in spite of all their objections? Like all
men of letters, they can see how the magistrates, however
vigilant they may be, [are] far from able to prevent
bad books coming into this country and being sold;
how the foreign printers haven’t been able to stop
the abuse of liberty by the printers of Lyon, who
counterfeit with impunity all sorts of books, even printing
pernicious ones with which they infect the provinces;
and ??? ??? of that section of the Académie which has
been opposed to the printing of Furetière’s and Richelet’s
dictionaries, has not stopped more than 1,000 copies of
the Dutch edition of Furetière from entering France, or
more than 5,000 copies from being secretly printed in
Lyon, from where they have been distributed throughout
the Kingdom, with more of these coming into Paris alone
than into all the other towns together.
      The printers of Lyon will be careful not to
complain about this abuse of privileges – on the contrary,
they would wish all good books to become public
property by passing in this way through the hands of
foreigners, so much do they cherish these routes of
indirect and illicit trade, so saturated with fraud is
the air they breathe [in Lyon].

On church books [usages]

      By the name of ‘church book’ we mean everything
that is for the Church’s own use, such as missals, breviaries
and diurnals, and everything that is concerned with the
ecclesiastical offices, whereby two categories may be
      The church books of a diocese or a specific
monastic order, such as the Diocese of Paris or that of
Reims, the Order of St Francis or St Dominic,
should all the more be considered as being of private
right, and the privilege for them all the more extensive,
given that the bookseller who undertakes to publish
them must make extraordinary expenses and advances,
and that they take a long time to sell; that the printing
of a gradual, an antiphony or a psalm-book, these being
the most voluminous, cannot but cause him net losses,
and the only way he can make this good is by the sale
of breviaries and diurnals, which are sold more readily,

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albeit quite slowly. It would be most easy to show and
prove that it is impossible to grant privileges that are too
long or too favourable for these sorts of books. But
there is no need to do this, since on this question there
are no disagreements between the booksellers.
      The other church books, that is those of the
universal Roman Church, are of common right to such
an absolute extent, that all booksellers have not only
always been entitled to print them, but even to import
them from foreign countries. And it is this which makes
it appropriate to observe here, in passing, that even if
these church books are entirely of common right, it
could not but be profitable for the State to grant a
privilege for them, not to a private individual, though,
but rather to a company of booksellers, just as at one
time there were 18 publishing houses in Paris, set up
by order of the King for the production of all these
church books. For it is testified that in those times
the Spaniards alone ordered almost 50,000 écus’ worth
of such books, not to speak of the other countries
and of what was sold for domestic consumption in our
Kingdom; And this provided a very large number
of families of workers with a living, whereas
nowadays we have not only lost these advantages,
but the booksellers of Antwerp, and, under the
name of Cologne, those of Amsterdam,* supply all
of Europe & even France with these books. Thus,
in this way they can make large sums of money.
And since it is almost certainly no longer possible
to re-establish this production in France, because it
would cost here much more than it does in Holland,
it would be reasonable to at least ensure that what
is consumed in France is produced only in France,
and that it should be forbidden to import any of these
books from elsewhere. But as this is not the right
place to enter into this discussion, we must now turn
to the privileges for particular sorts [of books] and reply
to the false reasons alleged by the booksellers of
Lyon, who, if they could, would like to deprive those
of Paris of the prolongations which they are

On privileges for particular sorts [sortes particulieres]

      The books which we are referring to as particular sorts –
all of them, as we have already said, having come
about through the production of some private
individuals, cannot become of public right except
to the extent that it should please those private
individuals, since it was up to them whether or not
they wanted to give their works, and no one has the
right to demand these from them, and if there are
any privileges

*) Amsterdam was a haven of Protestantism in the 16th
and 17th centuries, so the city’s printers who were
involved in the lucrative export trade of Catholic church
books to the rest of Europe availed themselves of the ruse
of indicating Cologne as the place of publication.

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which ought to be perpetual, it is without doubt those
which are granted to reward those persons who
have invented something that is useful for the
public, especially when this reward does not entail
any encroachment on the common or private right
of anyone else, and when it depends solely on the
prince. Now, the authors and booksellers who
produce books that are new in invention or
composition, thereby letting the public enjoy
something which it didn’t have previously, and
which is beneficial and agreeable to it, deserve
privileges that should be all the more lasting
and permanent, given that promoting those who
serve the public means to promote the public
directly, and that nothing is more worthy of the
justice of a prince than to allow a subject to
enjoy in private the conveniences and profits
of his particular industry.
      But as there is no rule without an exception,
it is necessary to see in which case the rule that
authorizes the perpetuity of a privilege might not
be entirely just, and which particular sorts [of books]
can become part of the common right system.
      Four things can cause a private individual to
forfeit the privilege which he is enjoying, and
cause his right to be transferred to the public:
      The first are malversations;
      The 2nd, an effect which is contrary to the
purpose of the privilege;
      The 3rd, neglect of one’s right;
      The 4th, any abuses which might occur.
      As for the first case, it is that just as a
town loses its privileges because of disloyalty
or for any other crime, so a private individual
must be liable to the same penalty, and if a
bookseller has a privilege of which he proves
himself to be unworthy because of some
malversations or other, his book should be
relinquished to the public, unless the King,
for specific reasons, wished to give it to
someone else as a personal favour. We shall
not cite any examples of this because hitherto
no such examples are known in the book trade.
      With regard to the second case, that is
the privilege for a book having an effect which
is contrary to its purpose – that is something
which can happen quite often. Then the
bookseller’s private right becomes common
to all, and there must not be any disputes about
this, because all the privileges which are
awarded for books, if they are intended to
reward a bookseller for the service he renders
to the public, must altogether cease to
exist if the former should use it in such a
way that is disadvantageous for the public.

Chapter 1 Page 14


      As a result of Gaspard Meturas, a Parisian
bookseller who had the privilege for the works of
Father Morin of the Oratory, not being able
to reprint the Traité de la penitence, copies
of the latter became so rare that instead of
the 12 livres which they were once sold for,
it was now impossible to get hold of them for
less than 18 or 20 livres. This excessive
price, and the demand which there was for
this book among the public, induced the Dutch
to have it printed in Antwerp, from which the
greater part of the edition reached Paris, in
spite of the privilege of Meturas, who in
this respect could not exercise [his privilege]
without doing the public an injustice. If he
had reprinted this treatise, his privilege would
have continued to exist, but because he did
not print it at all and a shortage of it was felt
by the public, his book became subject to common
right, and everyone indiscriminately was allowed to
order other copies of it [from abroad].
       As for the 3rd case, that is the neglect
of one’s own right, it is evident that a bookseller
who neglects for a while to obtain a prolongation
for his privilege does effectively seem to have
relinquished it, and that this can make [the book]
subject to common right. But the law gives ten years for
this kind of negligence, and when the booksellers
of Lyon maintain, invoking the Council’s ruling
of 27 February, 1665, that if one neglects to obtain
a renewal within a year after the expiry of the
first privilege, it is no longer possible to request
or obtain it, they are not taking into account the
type of privilege in question, confusing those of
the common sorts [of books] with those of the
particular sorts. For one mustn’t suppose that the
Council, with this law which is very just in
regard to the common sorts [of books], could
possibly have intended that a favour which the
King does to a private individual in order to
reward him for his industry and labour, should
be the cause of the latter’s downfall and ruin,
and in fact the Council’s intention was simply
to uphold the common right. For just as one
cannot obtain a privilege for a common sort without
this entailing some form of encroachment on
this public right, it can only be for reasons of
public necessity that the King might suspend
this for a while on behalf of the bookseller who is
willing to undertake the printing of this
common sort [of book].
      Indeed, the report justifying this sort of
privilege is always based on the argument that
since the copies of previous editions of the sort
which one wishes to reprint have been exhausted
and the public needs more, it is necessary to
produce a new edition; that the applicant

Chapter 1 Page 15

will undertake this if it should please the King to
grant him the privilege, so as to protect him
from the envy which others might harbour against
him, and from the losses which he might thereby
incur: and on the basis of this report the King
grants the privilege for six, eight, or ten years.
But in order that the applicant should not abuse of
this and that his right should not perpetuate itself
to the detriment of the public interest and without
a legitimate reason, it is most justly decreed that
if he should need to reimburse himself for his
advances by means of a renewal of this privilege,
he will be obliged to request it a year before
its expiry – otherwise, he will no longer be able
to obtain it; and it is also so that others should not
be able to anticipate him by requesting in their
turn the enjoyment of a thing which by common
right they would be equally entitled to claim. From
which it is clear that this ruling just had in mind
the privileges of the common sort. For if it were
to apply to the privileges of particular sorts, it would
destroy the legitimate right of a private individual
in favour of his enemies or his grudgers. It would be
as ruinous for the inventor of a work [ouvrage] as it
would be profitable for all those who would like
to usurp the latter.
      This can certainly never have been the intention
of the King or his Council, since the laws are not
at all made to deceive people – rather, they are made
against deception, and it would be a most palpable
act of deception if while someone is legitimately
enjoying a property which can only have him as its
owner, one were to dispossess him of it on the
strength of the ambiguous or equivocal sense which
one might be able to attribute to a law.
      The booksellers of Paris and all those who
produce anything new would be the more unfortunate,
the more their labour proved to be useful to the
public; and their industry would be of no avail to
them if, after having taken a lot of trouble, after
having incurred the risks upon which their success
depended, together with the expenses to be described
further on, they were not to derive any other
advantage than its enjoyment for a mere eight or ten
years, which is frequently too short a term to
compensate them, whereas the provincial booksellers
would be in a better situation and would have
an advantage as great as it is little deserved, since,
without paying anything to the authors, without
contributing anything of their own industry, and
with the full certainty of success, they would just
have to conduct themselves as if they were

Chapter 1 Page 16

??? in another’s hunting-ground, so as to watch the
game passing by, fire at the finest specimen and
carry it away with impunity, in full view of the owner,
who, far from improving his and his family’s situation,
would simply have been working so as to lose and
be robbed. For, since of all the books that are produced
the majority have no success and end up causing
nothing but losses to those who have undertaken them,
even ruining them sometimes, [whereas] those books
which do have a greater success would effectively
have been produced simply so that they should become
the prey of the provincial booksellers, especially those
from Lyon. Yet the Council is too enlightened and too
just for it not to desire that he who takes the risks
should not also receive the revenues of his work.
      If, therefore, a particular sort can, when it is
abandoned, become subject to common law [devenir
de droit public
], this could not be on account of the owner
having failed to anticipate the expiry of his privilege
a year in advance by obtaining a prolongation, but,
rather, on account of having neglected it for such a
long time that people have good reason to think that he
has renounced it. One can even encounter privileges
which are awarded with this clause in them: that those
who would like to reprint the particular sort of another
are obliged to ask him to communicate his privilege to
them and to make a copy of it at their own expense,
without that person being obliged to give them any notice
of it other than the extract [of the privilege] which
is inserted in the book. And when the ruling of
1665 orders that renewals are to be notified to the
Syndics of Lyon, Rouen, Toulouse, Bordeaux and
Grenoble, this must be understood to apply only to
the common sorts, since it is only to these that they
can make any claims, and they cannot be unaware
of the fact that the particular sorts belong wholly and
rightfully to those who produced them first.
      And yet nowadays one sees how the
booksellers of Lyon and Rouen venture to protest
against all kinds of prolongations – even those
that have been obtained in the best possible fashion
– and imagine that they are quite entitled to assert
that after the term of the first privilege has expired,
they should get to enjoy in their turn all the
advantages of a book for which they have not run
any risks whatsoever. In the following paragraph
we will see what means they use.
      The 4th and final eventuality which can render
a particular sort subject to the common right
sphere is if the owner abuses of his privilege. Now,
it is from this perspective that the booksellers of Lyon
attack those of Paris and dismiss as abusive all the

Chapter 1 Page 17

prolongations which can be obtained, without
excepting any one of them; what they allege is:
      Firstly. That the booksellers and publishing
houses of Paris are perpetuating book privileges
to themselves and their families, to the detriment
of booksellers in other towns, who are thereby
left out of business.
      Secondly. That they are selling their books so
expensively, that, since it is not permitted to
reprint them elsewhere in such a way as would
allow them to be sold more cheaply, the greater
part of the provinces is unable to derive any
benefit from them.
      As for the first argument – that the booksellers
of Paris are perpetuating privileges to themselves, with
exclusion of those of the [-----------------------] provinces –
is it really a crime to preserve for oneself a right that one
has legitimately acquired? Are the booksellers of Paris
obliged to provide employment, at their own expense, for
those of other towns? And don’t the booksellers of Lyon
and elsewhere have the same advantage as them in
obtaining privileges for particular sorts [of books]?
This argument seems so absurd that surely it does not
merit any answer other than that which one would give to
someone who asked why property isn’t communally
owned by everyone? or [who asked] why isn’t one
allowed to steal from one’s brother? In short, it is as if
one were to complain that the right to a well which a
private individual has had built in his house perpetuates
itself there, with the exclusion of those neighbours of
his who do not have the industry to have one built
in their own homes; and if it should be retorted to this
that this is because they have neither the space nor
the means for [building such a well], is this really a
reason that should compel him to relinquish the use
of his well to them?
      With regard to the other argument, it is a known
fact that it is usual for ambition and envy to put forward
the pretext of the public good, in order to deceive that
very public. The booksellers of Lyon try to cajole the
public with the

Chapter 1 Page 18

fictitious advantage that they will supply it with the
same books as the booksellers of Paris at much
better prices, but nothing is more insincere and
unjust than this offer of theirs. It is this which
we shall now make clear.
      The pretension of the Lyonnais booksellers is
all the more palpably unjust, given that they are
acting against their own interests, since there is no
way they could deny that they are as entitled as
those of Paris to obtain privileges for their particular
sorts [of books], and that, consequently, they have
the same interest in requesting prolongations to the
same, in order to preserve for themselves the fruit of
works [ouvrages] which they will have produced
by their very own industry, using their own stock
[of legitimately acquired books].
      Besides, the cheap prices with which they are
so keen to regale the public, and hoodwink the
Council, are more worthy of punishment than of
protection, given that all they are offering at such
low prices is what they have produced without any
care and with the most sordid thriftiness, and that
it is also what they have stolen from their colleagues.
      One just has to open their counterfeit books, and
one is immediately filled with indignation at the types
they use, at the paper, and even more so at their
carelessness in checking the proofs, which is all the
more criminal, given that as a result of the omission
or addition of a single vowel or a single negative
or affirmative particle, the holiest books can become
heretical ones.
      But without elaborating here on the inconveniences
of this slipshod production, a sufficient reply to the
vain pretext of the public good is simply to say that
when it shall please the King to allow the booksellers of
Paris to have their books printed in the provinces,
they will then sell them there just as cheaply as the
provincial booksellers sell those which they print
there, and they will not cease to apply the necessary
care to their impression. If the public were thus to
find the same advantage for the booksellers of
Paris, nothing would be so just as to give them
preference as inventors over those of the provinces,
who in this regard can be no more than unjust
usurpers. For if those who invent something that
is useful to the public, deserve to be

Chapter 1 Page 19

rewarded, what strange reward would it be if
one allowed their industry to work towards their
own ruin, so as to enrich those who care for no
other industry than that of robbing them. All the
efforts of the Parisian booksellers are directed at
giving new, useful, or agreeable books to the
public. Of every six books that they present to it,
two will go down well and four will be rejected.
So if these four books become a real and ruinous
loss for him who has printed them, should the
other two which attain some success have been
published merely to serve as the booty of provincial
printers whose only concern nowadays is to have
themselves authorized in this sort of brigandage?
      But, it will be said, the high price of books
in Paris is an abuse, as can be seen from a
comparison of the prices of books in the provinces,
as well as the prices they were sold at in the past,
with what they are sold at currently, since some
people will remember how once the thickest in
volumes cost no more than eight or ten
francs, whereas now you have to purchase them
for 15 or 18 livres. This argument, which seems
outwardly convincing, vanishes into nothing as
soon as one cares to take note of the difference
which there is between the manufacturing
industry in the provinces or of our ancestors,
and that of Paris at the present time.
      With regard to the provinces, it is a
universally known fact that everything costs more
in Paris, that domestic and manufacturing
costs are much greater there, and that the proof-
reading, beauty and binding which books are
given there are altogether quite different.
However, few people are aware of the difference
which the acquisition of the original MSS entails,
of how dearly the booksellers of Paris have to
purchase these, and how little they cost to those
of the provinces, since, given that they do not
buy the MSS, all that it costs them is the
liberty which they take in counterfeiting them:
The copy of a work may have cost 200 pistoles
to a bookseller in Paris, but his counterpart in
Lyon just has to buy it for two écus after it
has been printed and proceed immediately to
counterfeit it. It is thus that the manuscripts
of the Holy Scriptures [translated]

Chapter 1 Page 20

by M. De Sacy cost the Desprez brothers more
than 50,000 livres, but in this fashion they would
not cost more than 25 écus to the Lyonnais printers
who counterfeit them. However, it will be even
easier to appreciate this difference after the detailed
account which we shall now give of those differences
there are between the old books published in Paris
and the new ones.
      At the beginning of this century and approximately
up to 1650, books cost almost half of what they do
nowadays; But it is also true that booksellers gained
more by offering in folio volumes for eight francs than
what they do now in selling them for fifteen.
      At that time the number of buyers was much
greater than what it is nowadays. Many private
individuals wanted to have books and all the
religious orders were keen to build up libraries; but
now that these libraries have been established,
the monasteries don’t have to buy any more, and
these private individuals, either because they
have grown tired of their books or out of necessity,
are selling them to their friends or to booksellers
who can only make but a small profit by reselling
      In the past authors gave money to booksellers,
in order to contribute to the cost of printing their
works; and this money came to them from pensions
and gifts given to them by the King and his ministers
who engaged them through these favours to work
for the public. And even if not all authors were able
to give money, at least they didn’t demand any.
Nowadays the practice in the book trade is quite the
opposite, and, no matter whether it originated in the
want or avarice of some authors, or whether it was
introduced by someone else, people have become
so accustomed to it, that the art of writing has,
so to speak, become a trade [métier] for earning
one’s living, albeit one which is in danger of being
depreciated because of the large number of people
who take it up. Even those who receive frequent
gifts and enjoy significant sinecures, are just
concerned about the price which they can obtain
from their publisher, without any regard whatsoever
for the merit or the

Chapter 1 Page 21

industry of him who has taken on himself the
risk of [publishing] their first work. It would be
easy to cite quite a few examples of this.
      The 3rd difference which there is between
manufacturing in the past and that of today, is that
in the last 30 or 40 years the wages for workers
have risen by a factor of two and the cost of paper
has increased by almost two thirds.
      The cost of the workforce for 2 reasons: the
1st being that the prices of all the things they have
to use [in the manufacturing process] have gone up;
the 2nd that the booksellers, in order to save on
paper, which has also become very much more
expensive, have got into the habit of making the
volumes larger and the pages very much more so,
in comparison with how they used to be made,
and one just has to juxtapose books that were
printed 60 or 90 years ago with those printed
over the last 30 or 40 years, to see that much
more text is contained in two volumes such as
they are produced nowadays, compared to
equivalent ones from the past. And this is one
reason for the high price of books.
      As for the paper, it is much more expensive
now than 30 years ago, not just because finer
paper is used nowadays, but also for a reason
that is as annoying for the State as it is for the
book trade. Only 20 years ago the booksellers of
Paris were still getting all their paper from the
paper mills of Troyes, the Valley of Caën, and
the environs of Orleans and Blois, and it cost
them no more than 2, 3, or 4 livres per ream for
paper of the finest quality. Nowadays, when all
these paper mills have been destroyed, it has to
be bought from the Auvergne or Angoulême
regions, where it costs 6, 7, 8, or 9 livres per ream,
and the lower-quality paper from Limoges can
no longer be purchased for less than 4 or 5
livres. However, it is so full of blemishes that
no one would possibly dare to use it for works
of any significance, apart from the fact that each
ream entails over 30 sous of customs or freight
      This dearness of the paper is so ruinous for
the booksellers of Paris, that those who would like
to distinguish themselves by fine editions whose
paper is as pure as their souls have to be prepared
for huge losses, and a single work, if it is sufficiently
voluminous but does not sell well, can cripple a
bookseller to such an extent that he is almost
never able to recover. This misfortune happened
to the late Mabre Cramoisy, of whom one can say
with as much truth as compassion that the disorder
in his business came simply from his being too
honest in the exercise of his profession and his
failure to obtain any redress against the counterfeiters
of his books. He had had such good sales on the
works of L. Maimbourg that he considered himself
to be bound by honour, by respect for the author,

Chapter 1 Page 22

and by the requests of various persons of high standing,
to republish the entire set of his collected works in
12 volumes in 4to, hoping that an edition of such
exquisiteness and perfection would be well received
by the public; But he was so sorely deceived that after
having spent almost 30,000 livres on this, he did
not even manage to sell 60 copies, and his widow
did not make more than 4,000 écus out of his whole
edition, which, entailing a loss of 18,000 livres,
spells ruin for any publisher. Then to this we must
also add the illicit competition posed by the
booksellers of Lyon, who sold many more editions
of the works of Father Maimbourg than Cramoisy
himself. And what is even more cruel, is that
Cramoisy should have spent more than 1,500 livres
in prosecuting, at the Council and elsewhere, these
counterfeiters of books, without being able to
obtain any redress against their usurpations. The Sieur
Thiery has spent almost the same amount, with as
little success, the Sieurs Pralard and their colleagues
have also spent ten thousand livres without having
yet obtained any redress in this respect, even though
they had been honoured with explicit orders from
the King, but these met with nothing but resistance
in Lyon.
      We have said that the dearness of paper is no
less annoying for the State than it is for the book
trade, and here is the reason for this: namely, the
destruction of the paper mills of the Champagne
and Normandy regions, whose workers have
emigrated to Holland and England, where before
there was no such manufacturing, and where now
it is expanding and becoming more sophisticated
with every day that passes. For the Dutch have
invented a machine to take the place of the hammers
in their mills, which is capable of beating more
rags in 3 hours than our stamping hammers could
get through in three days, and with so much force
that the pieces of the thickest fibre are reduced in
it to pulp just like the finest silk. This shift [of the
papermaking industry to Holland] is all the
more detrimental to us, given that foreigners are
now making as considerable a profit from it as
we once made at their expense. One can judge
the loss suffered by France in this field from
the report which the Parisian bookseller Antoine
Bertier gave to Monsieur the Cardinal Mazarin
in 1660, when dedicating to him the Biblia
in 19 volumes in folio. He pointed out that

Chapter 1 Page 23

the paper which he had used in less than 8 years
had yielded 30,000 livres for the King’s farmers-general
[tax collectors], and he demonstrated this so clearly
that His Eminence told him, as he gave him 2,000
écus to engage again the services of the paper mills
of Troyes, that he didn’t know of any other subject
in the Kingdom who paid the taille* at such a rate.
And yet all the work of 40 years and all the enthusiasm
of poor Bertier, who printed more than 50 volumes
in folio, not counting other works which he undertook,
did not save him from dying in utmost misery, as
we will see further on.
      All these reasons are sufficiently convincing
to explain why the books which are printed in
Paris today have to be much more expensive than
those that were printed in the past, and, finally, it
would be true to say that one earns so little in the
book trading business that if the booksellers are
denied protection, or, rather, if they do not find
an extraordinary means of protection to help them
recover from the burdens by which they are
weighed under, all literature will vanish from our
Kingdom as it left Spain because of the poor
treatment which this profession was meted out
over there.


*) The taille was the most important direct tax of
the ancien régime, imposed on all non-noble
subjects and proportional to the household’s

Translation by: Luis Sundkvist (pp.1-23)


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