Spotlight On: Copyright – transcript

Hello, my name is Katherine Howells, and I’m the visual collections researcher at the National Archives. So today we’re going to look at some records from our COPY collection. And in this collection, we have images which include photographs and artwork, which were registered for copyright protection between 1862 and 1912. And the COPY collection also includes registers, which provide information about some of these images.

So in 1862 there was a new act which came into force called the Fine Art Copyright Act. And this enabled artists and photographers to register their images for copyright protection for the first time. And what they had to do when they wanted to register an image was they would fill in a form detailing information about themselves and the person registering the image and attach a copy of the image to the form and send it off to the stations company to register the photograph or the artwork under the new copyright law.

So in our collection at The National Archives, in the COPY collection, we hold all of the entry forms for these images that were sent in for copyright protection. And so in the collection, we hold a variety of images, including a great range of photographs. And these include early experimental photography, as well as photographs of famous places and famous people.

And in terms of the artwork that’s included in this collection, we also have advertising material, paintings, drawings, and even packaging and branding. So as well as photographs and artwork, the COPY collection also contains literature and music.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the records in the COPY collection.

So to look at this record, I’m going to put some gloves on because this is a photograph. And this is quite unusual, because with many records of The National Archives, with paper records, it’s best practice not to wear gloves because it allows you to feel the paper better so you can tell if you’re doing damage to it. But with photographs, it’s best practice to wear gloves.

So let’s take a closer look at this record. So the first thing to note about this record is that it has a number in top right corner, which tells us exactly where to find it in the archive. And we can see that the photograph is a black and white photograph of a woman lying on the ground. And there are a few men standing over her and a police officer as well.

But the form provides more information. So this form was completed by the people who registered the photograph for copyright protection. And we can find lots of information about the photograph from this form, including a description of the photograph and name and address of the person registering the photograph for copyright protection, and also the name and address of the author of the work, the photographer. And we also have the dates as well, the date that it was registered for copyright protection.

So we know that this photograph was taken on the 18th of November 1910 and it was taken at a demonstration led by Emmeline Pankhurst, which took place outside the Houses of Parliament. And this protest was known as the Black Friday demonstration because a large number of women experienced a lot of violence from the police and from bystanders.

So this photograph was a press photograph; it was intended to be published in a newspaper. And in fact it was published the day after the demonstration, in the Daily Mirror. And the photograph was also registered for copyright protection just five days after it was taken. So we also know that this photograph was used in the press. It was used in the Daily Mirror to try and accuse the government of condoning violence against women in the suffrage demonstration.

The government actually ordered this photograph to be withdrawn from the press, but by the time it had been published immediately after the demonstration, it was too late and the damage had been done to the government’s image.

There is some dispute over the identity of the woman in the image. Some believe that it’s Mrs Ernestine Mills. And others have suggested that it’s actually Ada Wright.

So this photograph is really useful evidence for understanding the women’s suffrage movement in this period. It is obviously a photograph of real events, so it can be used as direct evidence of this protest that took place. But also, it’s very useful for understanding how the press used photography and also how photographs could be interpreted in different ways, and how they could be used to change opinion on political issues particularly.

So let’s take a look at another record from the same collection. So this is an image that was registered for copyright protection, and so it’s held in the COPY collection. But this example, instead of a photograph, is a set of six picture postcards, and they are cartoons as well. And these were registered a few years earlier in 1908.

So again from the entry form attached to the image, we can find additional information about it. So in this example we can see that the cartoons were created by Tom Browne. And they were also registered by his own company, Tom Browne Co. So Tom Browne was a very popular strip cartoonist at the time, and he produced cartoons for Punch and the Tatler as well.

So the cartoons themselves have text at the top of each one saying ‘the new compensation act’, and each cartoon shows a different person, a different worker having an accident at work. And they’re all very happy about it. So in one example, there’s somebody being crushed by a grandfather clock and he’s saying, ‘crikey, I’ll get a pound a week for life for this’.

So these cartoons are poking fun at a new piece of legislation called the Workmen’s Compensation Act, which was passed into law in 1906 and came into force in 1907, shortly before these cartoons were created. So the Workmen’s Compensation Act ensured that workers would be entitled to compensation if they had an accident at work. These cartoons are comically suggesting that a lot of workers would be happy if they had an accident at work because of the compensation that they’d receive, the money that they would receive from the government.

So these cartoons are in the form of postcards. So they were created and produced in order to sell to people. Tom Browne in fact created many postcards just like these on different subjects. These postcards can provide us with really useful evidence for a variety of things. In particular, they can show us what attitudes were like to the Workmen’s Compensation Act, and more generally, attitudes to workers and the working class.

We can also use records like these to help us understand what people’s sense of humour was like in this period. And also other small things, like the kinds of jobs people did, what they wore and how they spoke.

So these are just two records in our COPY collection, which can provide us with evidence about political events of the turn of the 20th century – in particular, women’s suffrage and the Workmen’s Compensation Act.

But we must remember that these two records only present very specific perspectives on these events. And so we must always bear that in mind when evaluating the significance of evidence like these.