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Venetian Decree on Privileges for New Books and Reprints, Venice (1603)

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Venetian Decree on Privileges for New Books and Reprints, Venice (1603), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org

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Chapter 1 Page 1



1603. On the 11th of May.

With a Ruling by the Most Excellent Gentlemen
Reformatori dello Studio of Padua, regarding
the Art of Printers & Booksellers.

[Emblem of the winged lion
of St Mark

Printed by Antonio Pinelli,

Printer to the Doge.
By St. Maria Formosa, in the Street of the New World.


*) The Consiglio dei Pregadi, established in 1229 was
the Senate of the Venetian Republic.

Chapter 1 Page 2

1603. On 11th May

                        Amongst the various Arts which have most increased
                        the splendour of this City, that of Printing has always
                        occupied the principal place, because thanks to the great
                        accuracy and diligence that have been exercised for such
                        a long time now by those who have mastered this Art,
                        it has proliferated with great honour to the public and
                        most remarkable profit to all who are employed and
occupied in this work. At present, however, this Art - because of the drawing away
which is taking place so copiously of its resources and instruments, as these are
carried off to foreign States, followed by a continuous emigration of master
printers and workers - is destroying itself on a large scale, also due to the little
care and avarice of the Booksellers, who do not pay attention any longer to the
need for Works to succeed by being printed well with good type and fine paper,
and (something that is very important) due to a lack of sufficient Proof-readers,
so that works come out full of errors; and it has therefore forfeited that reputation
which in the past guaranteed a huge market for Venetian books - wherefore we
must not delay any more in making the necessary provisions and enacting those
regulations which are most suitable for checking the aforesaid disorders.
      Be it decided that whilst those judgments and ordinances which have so far
been enacted with regard to Printing, and which are not contrary to the present,
shall remain in force, in future all that is contained in the following Statutes is to
be observed inviolably.
      That all registered Printers or Booksellers who would like to print or cause
to be printed any work that has already been printed, are obliged to first of all have
the copy which they intend to use examined, and to assiduously correct all the faults
which it may happen to contain.
      They shall be obliged each time to have the lead forme [the page image or
typeset text] carefully read out by the Compositors, with either the Master Printers
or some other qualified persons listening, so that the first correction can be made
on the forme itself on that occasion, and then, once the sheet has been printed off
the press, to have that examined by the Proof-reader, who must correct any errors
which he finds in this sheet, and then the second sheet is to be run off, to ensure
that they have been fixed and removed.

Chapter 1 Page 3

      And because it is above all on the intelligence and competence of the Revisers
and Proof-readers that the perfection of Prints depends, and that works do not
come off the press which have been altered or corrupted, either due to malice or
ignorance, in future this task of revising and correcting may only be carried out by
those persons who have been approved by the Reformatori of our University of
Padua; the latter shall also have the authority (if they deem it necessary) to regulate
the standard fees of these Proof-readers and to sentence offenders to the penalties
which they consider to be appropriate for violations of what has been specified
      They are obliged to preserve the original copy of all new and old works, as
well as the original prints, so that instances of counterfeit can be assessed, and, above
all, so that, if after the revision has been done and before the licence is granted to
print the work, something is added or removed, or something different put into it,
these may be cancelled or struck off by the deputy Revisers (who shall consist of
the Reverend Inquisitor and one of our Secretaries) with the usual requisites, and
after taking an oath, all this being entrusted to them for the greater relief of the
Printers and Authors of the works, excepting those cases where the authors are
university professors or revisers themselves, whose inspection is to be deemed
      And the obligation of this same revision is to be in force in all the lands of
our State where books are printed, with the express prohibition that none of these
may be printed unless beforehand a certificate has been obtained not just from the
Reverend Inquisitor of the City in question, but also from one of our Secretaries,
which licence must also be undersigned by at least two of the aforesaid Reformatori;
failing which counterfeiters are to be punished both by the Rulers of this our
City and by the aforesaid Reformatori in accordance with their discretion.
      That to books which have been printed outside of Venice no one must dare
to add a title page with the inscription of a Printer from the City of Venice, so
as to make it seem that they have been printed in this City, on pain of a fine of
at least 25 ducats and, in some cases, some even greater penalty, depending on
the nature of the offence, such as it is assessed by the aforesaid Reformatori, and,
in particular, of confiscation of the books, which penalties are also to be applied
to the denouncer [if he should fail to keep the denunciation secret?]
      Those who would like to arrange for books to be printed must engage the
services of Master Printers who are recognized as suitably qualified by the officials
of the Guild and who, moreover, have good-quality types and ink, so that the books

Chapter 1 Page 4

are not just corrected, but also printed well, clearly, and legibly:
      They are obliged to have a list of errata printed at the end of every new book,
and the name of the Proof-reader in all old and new books.
      They are to make use of good and fine paper that must be of a weight pro-
portionate to the quality of the books, which are to be printed as determined by the
aforesaid Reformatori, whereby the paper must not be soaked in any way, in
accordance with this Council's Decree of 1537.
      And under all the other penalties specified in the resolution adopted by this
Council on 20th February of this year, both the matriculated guild members and non-
matriculated persons who exercise this Art must not dare to leave themselves, or lead
astray anyone else who belongs to the Guild, in order to go to work outside of this
City, nor should they either carry out of it any materials or instruments of whatsoever
kind which have to do with Printing.
      And so that it is possible to recognise in time and forestall any transgressions
which are being committed in this profession, but especially to ensure compliance
with what is decreed here, it has been resolved that the Prior and Adjuncts [Compagni]
of the Banca* of Printers and Booksellers must go around frequently, observing and
keeping an eye on how the present legislation is being implemented, and at least
every three months they must appear before the Reformatori to report any violations
which they may have happened to find out about, so that you might make such
arrangements as are demanded by so important a matter as the one in question. The
Reformatori must have in this the same authority, as was granted to them by the
aforesaid resolution of 20 February last, concerning attempts to entice away [from
Venice] artisans employed in the printing profession, and using the fines which they
may have to impose, they are, at their own discretion, to assess the loss of labour
and money which the aforesaid Prior and Adjuncts are understood to have
suffered [in the exercise of their obligations to inspect their colleagues]; however,
anyone is entitled to denounce whosoever should violate any of the afore-
mentioned Statutes, whereby he has the guarantee that his denunciation will be
kept secret and that he will receive 25 ducats from the assets of the offenders.
      Those persons who are not matriculated, but would like to have any book
printed in this City must, in order that the contract [with a local printer] should
be valid, for each bale of ten reams pay eight grossi to the aforesaid Guild,
whereby the latter agrees to bear all the expenses and obligations of rowing
the galleys [gravezza de' Galeotti] which are not discharged by these persons.
      As for those who are matriculated in the aforesaid Guild and who print afresh

*) The presidency of the Guild of Printers and Booksellers.

Chapter 1 Page 5

any book in this City, which is no longer printed in any other place, provided
that they have a Mandate for printing that book, they can have it recorded by
one of the members of the aforesaid presidency of the Guild, whereby whoever
is the first to print such a book is understood to have the guarantee, albeit with
no other privilege, that no one apart from him may print it in all of our domains,
or offer it for sale in these once printed, for the next twenty years.
      As for those which shall have been printed in Italy, both this side of the
Mountains [the Alps] and beyond, but in all cases printed with the licence
explained above, they have a privilege for ten years.
      And if anyone of these matriculated printers should wish to print a book
of great value, as has happened on many occasions, which was not printed
within the preceding twenty years, he shall have a ten-year privilege to do so.
      And for those which have not been printed in the preceding ten years,
the privilege to print them now is to be for five years, on the express condition
that if the Guild members concerned do not start printing the works in question
within a month of having given notice of their intentions and fail to continue
what they have started by producing at least half a printer's sheet of the work
every day, except where they have been prevented from doing so by some
legitimate reason, they must make this known to the aforesaid presidency of
the Guild, who are to report this to the aforementioned Reformatori, and are
understood to have forfeited the privilege, whereby the latter will be awarded
to the person who made the denunciation, or if there was no denunciation, to
him who is deemed suitable by the Reformatori.
      And if in the books for which matriculated members of the Guild have
been granted a privilege, as detailed above, any errors are found, the person
who obtained the privilege is understood to have forfeited it without fail, and
the same applies if the works turn out to be badly printed and impressed, not
properly legible, and with bad-quality paper and ink, all of which are things
forbidden and reviled by the aforesaid Statute.
      And because it is most apposite that the prohibition on granting privileges
for works which are printed outside of this City should remain in force, in order
to avoid the damage and harm which might afflict the book trade in this City as
a result of such concessions, may the following be added: That no such book
privileges for printing a work abroad may be granted under any circumstances,
unless a resolution has been voted on beforehand in our Collegio,* with five sixths
of the members being present, and provided that the resolution is issued by all
the regular members of this Collegio and passed by five sixths of the Senate, at
which a hundred and eighty or upwards of the Senators must be present; other-
wise the concession of such a privilege is to be considered null and void.

*) The Collegio, made up of the Doge and 22 high-ranking councillors, was
in charge of day-to-day government business in Venice.

Chapter 1 Page 6

      All those who happen to print any books, whether in this City or outside
of our State, shall be obliged to deposit the first copy of each lot of the books
they print, bound in leather, at our Library of St Mark's, and they may not start
to sell any such book unless they have a certificate from the Librarian of this
library, confirming that it has been duly deposited there.
      And the execution of the present resolution is specially entrusted to the
Reformatori of the aforesaid University, that it may be fully and inviolably


Reformatori of the University of Padua.

1603. On 10th March.

                        By order of the Most Illustrious Signori Reformatori
                        of the University of Padua, authorised to deal with
                        the matters described below by the Most Excellent
                              Every matriculated member of the Guild of
                        Printers and Booksellers, and any other person who
                        is not matriculated, such as Type-founders and
                        printing press workers, as well as everyone else, is
hereby enjoined that, on pain of imprisonment, being sent to row the galleys,
exile, loss of property, and disqualification from one's profession, at the
discretion of Their Excellencies, they must not leave to work in any other
place outside of this City, both within the State of Venice, and beyond its
borders, without a written licence from the Most Illustrious Signori, whereby
the latter must not fail to give to anyone belonging to this profession due
justice and protection. And under all the aforesaid penalties all of the
aforesaid matriculated members, and non-matriculated persons, as well as
anyone else, are enjoined not to venture to induce, either personally,
or by the agency of others, any of

Translation by: Luis Sundkvist


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