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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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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’).


aucun droit, ou par les etrangers qui ne s'en sont point
acquis en France, ou enfin par les autres autheurs qui ont
abandonné au public le droit particulier qu'ils pourroient
avoir sur leurs propres ouvrages.
      Les sortes particulieres renferment tous les livres
qui ont eté produits pour la premiere fois dans le Royaume
par l'industrie particuliere d'un libraire ou par le travail
d'un auteur qui lui cede son ouvrage et son droit, de quelque
manière qu'ils en traitent ensemble.
      Cette distinction des sortes de livres fait la
distinction des privileges que le Roy accorde pour les
      Les privileges pour les livres compris sous le nom
de sorte commune, sont des graces qui veritablement peuvent
etre regardées comme des exceptions du droit commun, et qui
cependant ne laissent pas de devoir etre prorogées en faveur
d'un particulier qui se sera exposé a quelque perte pour le
service du public, surtout quand son privilege n'attaque pas
directement et considerablement le droit d'autrui.
      Mais le privilege pour les sortes particulieres
sont de ces biensfaits dont le Roy se sert pour honnorer
et recompenser le merite de ses sujets qui les obtiennent ;
Et ces biensfaits qui dependent uniquement de lui sans
interesser en rien le droit de qui que ce soit, sont d'autant
plus favorables qu'ils devroient mesme etre perpetuels.
Et s'ils ne le sont pas ce n'est que par un effet de la prudence
du prince qui menage ses graces pour avoir plus souvent
occasion de reconnaitre et d'animer l'industrie de ses sujets,
outre qu'il seroit assez inutile dans la librairie d'accorder
un privilege perpetuel pour ce qui n'est jamais perpetuellement
avantageux, puisqu'on scait que les livres ont leur temps,
comme ils ont leur sort.
      Cette distinction des privileges n'est pas nouvelle
dans la librairie. On en trouve un exemple dans le
jugement d'un proces qui paroit le premier qui ait esté
la-dessus entre les libraires, et dont l'origine et la decision


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