How to look for Copyright records of the Stationers’ Hall

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1.Why use this guide?

This guide explains how to search for records which contain information about works registered for copyright at the Stationers’ Hall. These records cover a range of different media such as literary and commercial books (1842-1912), photographs, paintings and drawings (1862-1912).

This guide also explains where to look for records relating to copyright from The Stationery Office in the section Stationery Office records (1887-1955).

The National Archives does not hold any published works submitted as part of the copyright process. See the section on Copyright libraries for details of institutions which may hold these works.

Records of The Stationers’ Company from before 1842 and of voluntary registration from 1912 onwards are held by The Stationers’ Company Library and Archives.

2.Why were these records created?

2.1 Early copyright registration

Between 1554 to 1924 individuals and businesses could apply to secure copyright by submitting an application for registration to the Stationers’ Company.

Copyright presented no problem until the development of printing as it was necessary to sell multiple copies of a printed work before any final profits could be made.

From 1842 to 1924 the law of copyright rested substantially on an Act of 1842.

Though complex in detail, the law fixed the term of copyright at either 42 years or the life of the author plus seven years, whichever proved longer.

2.2 Registration at Stationers’ Hall

Registration at Stationers’ Hall was re-enacted, having been a condition of copyright since 1709. Entry was to be made:

“ …in the Registry Book of the Stationers’ Company of the Title of such Book, the Time of the first Publication thereof, the Name and Place of Abode of the Publisher thereof, and the Name and Place of Abode of the Proprietor of the Copyright of the said Book…and it shall be lawful for every such registered Proprietor to assign his Interest… by making entry in the said book of Registry of such Assignment, and of the Name and Place of Abode of the Assignee thereof… such Assignment… shall be of the same Force and Effect as if such Assignment had been made by Deed. ”

The wording of the Act suggests only a limited application “to literary matter of lasting benefit to the world”; but in practice copyright was given a much wider application and came to include practically any original literary work. Copyright of non-literary works during this period rested on other Acts of similar substance.

2.3 International copyright

A series of treaties and Acts in the nineteenth century addressed international copyright. Foreigners were protected on the same basis as the citizens of the country concerned. Registration of foreign authors’ works began at Stationers’ Hall in 1846, in accordance with an Act of 1844.

The Imperial Copyright Act of 1911 gave protection to all copyrighted material without the need for registration. The statutory registers at Stationers’ Hall therefore closed on 30 June 1912, except for works first published in the self-governing Dominions. These continued to be registered for each Dominion until it adopted the Act and such registrations continued until 31 December 1923. The 1911 Act, which repealed that of 1842, set the term of normal copyright at the life of the author plus 50 years.

Copyright protection was extended to gramophone recordings, film adaptations, and conversions of novels or similar material into dramatic works and vice versa.

2.4 Voluntary registration of works

Since the 1911 and 1956 Acts the Stationers’ Company has maintained a voluntary register supplemented by deposited copies of registered works.

Voluntary registration expires after seven years, at which point Stationers’ Hall disposes of the registered work. Only if it is re-registered (on payment of a further fee) is it retained for a further seven years, though the registers are kept regardless. The Company has transferred to The National Archives. The records produced by statutory registration under the 1842 Act have now been transferred to The National Archives.

3. What form do the records take, and how do they relate to each other?

The process of registration required the copyright proprietor to fill out an entry form with a description of the work and their personal details. This information was then entered into the Copyright Registers.

The Copyright Registers 1842-1924 and the indexes to them can be found in the COPY 3; the Entry Forms 1837-1912 can be found in the COPY 1 . The Entry Form often has a copy of the title page of the book, or copy of the photograph or print being registered attached. A series of Label Books 1873-1912 can be found in the COPY 2 which contain pasted-up labels, cards, commercial advertisements, mostly duplicating items in COPY 1.

4. What information do the records contain?

The records on the entry forms in COPY 1 and copyright registers in COPY 3 give information such as:

  • dates of registration or first publication
  • titles of publications or descriptions of the works supplied
  • details of the copyright proprietor and creator of the work
  • name of publisher and place of publication (for published works)

5. How do I search and view the documents?

5.1 Tips for searching for records

All of the photographs registered for copyright protection from 1883-1912 and most of the photographs and artworks from 1862-1882 have now been catalogued. These records can be keyword searched within COPY 1 in our catalogue by:

  • photograph description (such as by name of person, place, subject or theme)
  • copyright proprietor (owner) or photographer’s name

You can refine your searches by date. See Discovery search help if you need more guidance on how to construct a keyword search. If you don’t find any relevant document references, try browsing records by date and type of entry within COPY 1.

The copyright registers in the COPY 3 series are arranged chronologically and are not searchable by keyword. There are someindexes to the registers arranged alphabetically by the name of the copyright proprietor; see section 6 on Copyright Registers for more information on how to use them.

5.2 Viewing the documents

None of the records referred to in this guide can be viewed online, though a selection can be previewed in our Image Library. To view them you will either need to visit The National Archives or order digital or paper copies to be sent to you. You can order copies from Discovery by clicking on the record title (you should register an account in Discovery before you request copies).

6.1 Books, literary and commercial

The ‘Books, Literary’ registers contain information on the following sorts of works submitted for copyright:

  • published plays and fiction
  • pamphlets
  • research guides of a technical nature
  • printed music
  • prints
  • games
  • advertising matter

The ‘Books, Commercial’ registers contain mainly information on the following:

  • labels
  • trade marks
  • catalogues
  • advertising matter

When an entry is followed by the words ‘Copy Annexed’, it means that a copy of the work is attached to the original entry form in COPY 1.

You can then use the name indexes to find a volume and page number for the entry in the appropriate register.

Assignments, up to and including 2 July 1883, are included in the registers with the original entries. They are included separately at the end of each volume.

Contents Registers Indexes Assignments registers and indexes
Books Literary and Commercial 1842-1883 COPY 3/1-29 81, 91 COPY 3/1-29, COPY 3/101-102
Books, Literary 1883-1924 COPY 3/30-62 82-90 COPY 3/97-100, COPY 3/103
Books, Commercial, 1883-1912 COPY 3/63-80 92-96 COPY 3/97-100, COPY 3/103

6.2 Fine arts

The registers in this division include both original entries and assignments of all paintings, drawings and photographs registered.

From 1862 to 1883 all the entries are in one General Series of registers.

Contents Registers Indexes
Paintings, Drawings & Photographs 1862-1883 COPY 3/104-118 COPY 3/200-203
Paintings & Drawings 1883-1912 COPY 3/119-163 COPY 3/204-212
Photographs 1883 – 1912 COPY 3/164-199 COPY 3/213-220
Dramatic & Musical 1873-1922 COPY 3/221-224 COPY 3/225-226
Paintings and Drawings Artistic 1906-1912 COPY 3/149-152
Paintings & Drawings Commercial 1906-1912 COPY 3/153-163

6.3 Foreign entries

Between 1847 and 1854 foreign copyright entries were made in the General Series of Registry Books, but these are indexed separately.

After 1883 the Foreign Register is divided into separate divisions such as books, music or prints. Before 1883 assignments for books, music, prints, sculpture etc. are included in the General Series, at the end of each volume.

Contents Registers Indexes
Foreign Entries 1846-1912 (inc. in General) COPY 3/4-7 COPY 3/251-256
Foreign Representations Dramatic, 1883-1912 COPY 3/221, 223, 224, 250
Foreign Sculpture, Paintings & Drawings 1883-1888 COPY 3/248-249
Foreign Prints1883-1888 COPY 3/247
Foreign Books 1883-1891 COPY 3/241-242

Note: Domestic Registers which continue beyond 1912 do so as Registers for Dominions (principally Canadian) works.

7. Stationery Office records (1888-1955)

The Stationery Office is responsible for copyright in government publications as well as for their printing, publication and sale.

The following records deal specifically with copyright, such as:

  • out-letters from 1888-1955 in STAT 4
  • registers of in-letters from 1888-1921 in STAT 5
  • files of copyright correspondence from 1887-1955 in STAT 14/27255

8. Records and resources held elsewhere

8.1 Records held at Stationers’ Hall

The Stationers’ Company holds copyright registers from between 1554 and 1842. Entries up to 1709 have been published in A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London 1554-1660, ed E Arber (1875-94) and A Transcript of the Registers of the Worshipful Company of Stationers from 1640 to 1708 (1709), ed Briscoe Eyre (1913-14); in addition there are indexes up to 1700, and one in progress to 1750, though these are not completely satisfactory.

For all entries from 1710 to 1842 the original registers need to be consulted, but it’s essential to know the date of publication as no index exists. The Stationers’ Company also holds records of voluntary registration from 1912 onwards.

8.2 Copyright libraries

The following copyright libraries hold complimentary copies of publications:

Throughout the period of copyright registration the procedure was often disregarded, partly because of the fees for registration but more importantly to avoid the obligation to provide complimentary copies for copyright libraries.

9. Further reading

Relevant publications may be available to buy from The National Archives’ bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

Hugh Barty-King, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office: the story of the first 200 years, 1786-1986 (H.M.S.O., 1986)

Guide reference: Domestic Records Information 45