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19th Century Copyright Notices and Legalese

March 27, 2009

I recently helped a student use an item in our Rare Books Collection to verify a citation that a professor had recorded for a forthcoming law review article.  One of the references she wanted to check was the original publication date of the volume.  When we looked on the back side of the title page, we discovered the following statement:


(You can click on the image to make it larger.)

Needless to say, my researcher was a little confused--this lengthy narrative looks almost nothing like the modern convention for declaring copyright: that ubiquitous symbol, ©.

It may be hard to believe, but the copyright symbol was not formally adopted until 1979, when copyright laws were overhauled.  Before then, owners of works had to petition the Copyright Office to copyright their works. 

 What looks to modern eyes like an arcane, roundabout way of stating something very simple was actually a necessary explanation that the author of a work had been granted copyright by the Copyright Office. 

An old professor of mine in college once quipped that Charles Darwin was a great thinker but "he needed an editor."  19th Century prose has often been described as florid and verbose.  Copyright notices of that era are no exception, suggesting that even something this routine could take on a dramatic flair.