A Brief Sketch Of Privilegio In The Venetian Renaissance 07/02/2018 by Intellectual Property Watch 2 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and are not associated with Intellectual Property Watch. IP-Watch expressly disclaims and refuses any responsibility or liability for the content, style or form of any posts made to this forum, which remain solely the responsibility of their authors. By Gavin Keeney As a type of historical morality tale, especially given arguments currently before the European Commission regarding copyright reform and “neighboring rights,” this short treatise addresses the origins of copyright in the Venetian Renaissance in the late 1400s under the aegis of privilegio, notably first granted to authors (author-publishers) versus printers (printer-publishers). Subsequently, printers as publishers would command the lion’s share of such rights to works. Arguably, Venetian privilege transferred the immemorial aspect of written works (here considered “moral rights” for works) to authors in a casual, yet emphatic manner leading to modern copyright. With contemporary copyright nominally belonging to authors, but in fact belonging by expropriation to presses and platforms, it is likely that one of the few solutions, short of benevolent presses fully sharing rights with authors, is for moral rights to return to works by way of the author renouncing copyright but refusing the arrogation of such renounced rights to presses and platforms. Marc’Antonio Sabellico’s Rerum Venetarum, published in 1487. Giorgio Cini Foundation, Venice, Italy, May 2017. Photo: Mireia C. Saladrigues. Quod opus prefatum per Marcum Antonium prefatum dari possit alicui diligenti impressori qui opus illud imprimat suis sumptibus et edat et nemini praeter eum liceat opus illud imprimi facere.(1) The very first recorded privilegio or privilege (early form of copyright) was given in Venice to Marc’Antonio Sabellico’s Rerum Venetarum, published in 1487, a book on the history of Venice. The mise-en-abyme quality deepens … Not only did the Venetian Senate grant privilege for this book about the murky origins of Venice, plus its history up to the moment of its publication in 1487, but they granted it to the author, not to a publisher. Sabellico subsequently chose the printer, Andrea de’ Torresani of Asola, to produce the work. This Early Modern concession to the rights of the author followed upon a continuous tradition from classical times forward that a text belonged to whomever owned its printed form. This breach between physical and intellectual property, operative since the beginning of the production of codices and manuscripts, momentarily closed before it opened once more with the triumph of the printed book trade as an industry. Torresani was, notably, the father of the wife of Aldus Manutius, who would later become the “prince” of Venetian printed books. Printing first arrived in Venice in 1469, when the Collegio of the Senato granted German printer Joannes de Spira monopoly rights for a period of five years to print all books issued in the Republic of Venice. Spira promptly died a year later and the privilege was revoked (not passed on to his business partners). Manutius arrived in Venice in 1489, established his press in 1494, and the “reign of Aldus” lasted for the next 25 years based upon quality of printing, innovation in typography, and re-production of Greek classical literature. As most printer-publishers of the period, Manutius assumed ownership of an author’s works (dead or alive) when he applied for privilegio. There are exceptions, however, such as when an author-publisher held the rights and Manutius merely served as printer. Such was the case with Sabellico and Torresani. Sabellico is essentially the author-publisher and Torresani is the printer. Yet there is something fascinating hiding out in the 17-year gap between Spira’s privilege (literally a monopoly on all book publishing in Venice, no matter if enforced or not) and Sabellico’s privilege (an accidental or intentional nod to the author versus the printer). It is as if these two events bracket a space or historical interval that is exceptional because of the cultural silence instilled – yet in retrospect, for something was going on that cannot quite be seen or denoted. That fascinating “something” is the total absence of any intervening privileges granted in Venice. The Senate left the book trade to its own devices, having perhaps realized the error of their ways in granting a monopoly. Yet when they sprang back into action in 1486, knowingly or not, they opened Pandora’s Box and author rights emerged. To mix metaphors, the genie was out of the bottle, the horse had bolted the barn, and there was no looking back … This powerful acknowledgement of the author, operating just beyond the guarded borders of conventional or official patronism, is the beginning of what is often called “literary proprietorship,” arguably the origin of the moral rights of authors only formalized centuries later. Notably, privilegio only applied to the physical book, not to the written manuscript or to the work in the abstract as work. No one can own ideas, but you can at the least own a book. Thus the Medieval or Classical rule still held sway in the first instances of privilegio. Moreover, the book had to “appear” (be set in lead type and actually printed and sold) to receive protection from illegal copying and piracy. Book as text, text as book is a two-way street. The abuse of these privileges was common in the absence of any enforcement by the authorities, and in most cases it was a type of “travelor’s advisory” for authors and presses to cooperate. Yet the concept of literary proprietorship was so vague that as of 1544-5, following repeated adjustments in the laws of privilegio, mostly in favor of the book trade and consumer, Venetian printers were forced to produce “documentary proof of the consent of the author or his nearest heirs” before issuing a book or applying for a privilege. The emergence of a parallel “clandestine book trade” took care of that problem, with fake imprints being sold all over the city, from the Rialto to San Salvadore, from the Frezzeria to the Merceria. Immediately following this first privilegio of 1486, the floodgates opened, and the author-publisher privilege was eclipsed by the printer-publisher privilege. From 1486 to 1517 everything started to unravel, and by the mid-1550s privilegio was more or less assigned to the printer-publisher, not to the author-publisher. Notable exceptions were, of course, notable authors of the order of Ariosto et al., with rights being passed with ease to their heirs. Ariosto’s Orlando actually received a life-time privilege – i.e., his lifetime, not the life of the book. This was issued in 1515. His heirs subsequently acquired rights to his masterworks upon his death in 1535. Without quite realizing it, the Venetian authorities had now stumbled on to the idea of rewarding the life-work (the lived work). In 1517, due to the abuse of the system by presses of “registering” long lists of books in advance of their publication, effectively to tie up books and block anyone else from publishing them, the Venetian Senate canceled all existing privileges and started from scratch. The College charged with issuing the privilege had apparently been corrupted by the publishing trade. Privileges, not unlike indulgences, were being purchased. The new rules of 1517 also required a two-thirds vote of approval in the Senate for all new privileges, effectively overriding the role of the College which would henceforth presumably just record the transaction. Not much later, in 1534, due to further evasive tactics by the book trade, the Senate also re-imposed a one-year deadline on producing the actually existing, physical book or books listed in the privilege, after which, if not published, the privilege for that title was revoked. The vagaries of privilege had been gamed. It is important to note that not all books were issued a privilege, and that the rules after 1517 stipulated that the work had to be new or previously unpublished to be granted such status. Much of this had to do with how books came to publishers, how they were editioned, with many being translations from Greek, Latin, and Hebrew – meaning “classical works” – or edited collections. By the 1550s, privilege was more or less a means of protecting a publisher’s “financial investment” in a project. Thus the glorious specter of “literary proprietorship” arrived and disappeared with the book publishing industry triumphing over the author … By the time of the Enlightenment, the moral rights of authors will be catastrophically re-defined in France as separate rights – and therefore without any ground to stand on. They will float in the air, wistfully. By the twenty-first century they will be a footnote in the history of copyright law, though still invoked. In the Venetian Renaissance, moral rights and economic rights were, however vaguely, and however briefly, one thing. Gavin Keeney Venice, June 26, 2017 This essay was written under the auspices of a Co-funded Research Residency at the Giorgio Cini Foundation, Venice, Italy. Image – Marc’Antonio Sabellico’s Rerum Venetarum, published in 1487. Giorgio Cini Foundation, Venice, Italy, May 2017. Photo: Mireia C. Saladrigues. Gavin Keeney is an independent scholar. He completed a research doctorate in Architecture at Deakin University, Australia, in 2014, on the subject of “Visual Agency in Art and Architecture”. His most recent publications include Knowledge, Spirit, Law: Book 1, Radical Scholarship (2015), and Knowledge, Spirit, Law: Book 2, The Anti-capitalist Sublime (2017), both published open access with Punctum Books. ENDNOTES 1 – Excerpt from the privilege granted September 1, 1486 by the Venetian College to Marc’Antonio Sabellico’s Rerum Venetarum (1487). Horatio F. Brown, “1469-1517: Books Before Legislation,” pp. 50-72, in Horatio F. Brown, The Venetian Printing Press: An Historical Study Based Upon Documents for the Most Part Hitherto Unpublished (London: John C. Nimmo, 1891), p. 53; with reference to Carlo Castellani, I privilegi di stampa e la proprietà letteraria en Venezia dalla introduzione della stampa nella città fin verso la fine del secolo XVIII (Venice: Fratelli Visentini, 1888), p. 6. See also: Giovan Battista Gasparini, “La natura giuridica dei privilegi per la stampa in Venezia,” in La Stampa degli incunabuli nel Veneto (Venice: Neri Pozza, 1984), pp. 103-20. Image Credits: Mireia C. 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