How to look for records of... Intellectual property: photographs, artwork, literature, music and advertising registered for copyright 1842-1924 (and 1887-1955)
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
How many are online?
1.Why use this guide?
This guide will help you to find UK copyright records held at The National Archives. Among these records is one of the great British photography collections of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, with well over 100,000 individual images. There is also a huge and wonderful collection of British branding and advertising images from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as records of the copyright protection of published books and musical scores.
The primary sets of copyright records held here are those originally held by:
- The Stationers’ Company 1842-1924 (but mostly up to 1912)
- The Stationery Office 1887-1955 (government publications only)
These records include:
- details of literary and commercial books registered for copyright (1842-1912), including, in some cases, a copy of the title page of the book and the date of its first publication
- details of photographs, advertisement artwork, paintings and drawings registered for copyright (1862-1912), including, in many cases, reproductions or versions of the image
- details of dramatic and musical works registered for copyright
The records do not include:
- whole published works submitted as part of the copyright process – see the section on Copyright libraries for details of institutions which may hold these
- Copyright records and images from before 1842 or, in the main, after 1912 – see The Stationers’ Company Library and Archives for these
To view records referred to in this guide you will either need to visit The National Archives or order digital or paper copies to be sent to you (£). The vast majority of the records are not available to view online. However, there is a good selection of photographs, artwork and advertising from this collection available to preview in our Image Library.
Watch our Spotlight On: Copyright Office video for a brief introduction to copyright records at The National Archives.
2.What are these records?
Our copyright records come from two very distinct branches of government and make up two very different collections – it’s the records of the Stationers’ Company where you will find the photographs and artworks.
2.1 Copyright records of the Stationers’ Company 1842-1924 (but mostly up to 1912)
Between 1554 and 1924 individuals and businesses could apply to secure copyright by submitting an application for registration to the Stationers’ Company.
The copyright records held at The National Archives are those that were registered under the terms of a succession of copyright acts which began in 1842, including the following:
- The Copyright Act 1842
The key piece of legislation for records held here. The Act fixed the term of copyright at either 42 years or the life of the author plus seven years, whichever proved longer. The Act decreed that a copyright registry would be kept at Stationers’ Hall, the home of the Stationers’ Company. It covered only literary and commercial works.
- The International Copyright Acts of 1844, 1852, 1875 and 1886
Registration of foreign authors’ works began at Stationers’ Hall in 1846, in accordance with the 1844 Act.
- The Fine Arts Copyright Act 1862
This extended the terms of the 1842 Copyright Act to paintings, drawings and photographs. This Act conferred copyright protection for the life of the author plus seven years.
- The Imperial Copyright Act 1911
The Imperial Copyright Act of 1911 repealed the 1842 Act. The 1911 Act gave protection to all copyrighted material without the requirement for registration. The statutory registers at Stationers’ Hall therefore closed on 30 June 1912, except for those which recorded works first published in the self-governing dominions (for example, Canada and Australia). These continued to be registered for each dominion until it adopted the Act and such registrations continued until 31 December 1923, when our copyright records of the Stationers’ Company come to a close. The Act also required a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom to be deposited at the British Library (then part of the British Museum).
After the final expiration of statutory registration in 1924, the Stationers’ Company set up a new, voluntary register which was maintained until April 2000 (see section 7.1). After the voluntary register closed no further registrations were taken.
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.
A wide range of images were registered for copyright protection under these Acts. Some examples include:
- Photographs of people and places
- Press photographs
- Paintings and illustrations
- Artwork for product packaging or branding
- Designs for stationery and greetings cards
2.2 Copyright records of the Stationery Office 1887-1955
The Stationery Office is responsible for the copyright, printing, publication and sale of government publications.
Most of the Stationery Office records held at The National Archives are those of the working life of the office itself, as opposed to copyright records per se. However, there are some records that make reference to specific works of copyright (see section 6).
3. The record types and their content
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. We hold both the forms and registers here.
3.1 Entry forms
Entry forms often include copies of the title pages of books, or copies of the photographs or artwork being registered.
The entry forms include the following information:
- dates of registration or first publication
- titles of publications or descriptions of the works supplied
- details of the copyright proprietor and the creator of the work (the author, photographer or artist)
- name of publisher and place of publication (for published works)
3.2 Copyright registers
Copyright Registers include the same details as those recorded in the entry forms, as listed above.
There are original indexes for the registers.
There are separate registers for the various categories of works:
- ‘Books, Literary’ registers, which covered:
- published plays and fiction
- research guides of a technical nature
- printed music
- advertising matter
- ‘Books, Commercial’ registers, which covered:
- trade marks
- advertising matter
- ‘Paintings and Drawings’ registers, split into ‘artistic’ and ‘commercial’ works
- ‘Photographs’ registers
- ‘Dramatic and Musical’ registers
- ‘General Series’ registers which covered all the above fine arts entries from 1862 to 1883
- Foreign entries and registers
3.3 Label Books
Label Books 1873-1912 are scrap books which mostly duplicate items in COPY 1 – they contain pasted-up labels, cards, commercial advertisements and the like.
4. How to find entry forms (including copies of photographs and artwork)
All entry forms are held in series COPY 1. Photographs, prints and other representations of registered works come attached to the entry forms and their existence is usually highlighted in the catalogue description.
You can use our online catalogue to search by keyword and year in COPY 1 for entry forms of the following:
- Most of the photographs and artworks registered for copyright from 1862-1882
- All of the photographs registered for copyright from 1883-1912
Your keywords can be of the following types:
- description of the image (such as the name of the person, place, subject or theme depicted)
- name of the copyright proprietor (owner), photographer or artist
- address of the proprietor (owner), photographer or artist
To find the reference for the photograph shown above in our catalogue you could search in COPY 1 with any of the following: ‘Ganges’, ‘Benares’, ‘Walter Meakin’ or even ‘coloured postcard’, though for the latter you would have a lot of results to pick through.
Not all entry forms have a copy of the work attached. If you are searching specifically for copies of works, check the record descriptions carefully as they usually indicate whether or not a copy is attached with a phrase such as ‘copy annexed’ or ‘no copy annexed’.
If you can’t find an entry form using keywords you can try browsing COPY 1 by date and type of entry. However, as all works other than photographs and artworks are not listed in our catalogue in individual detail, including books, musicals and plays, you will need to know the year and probably the month of registration to have a hope of finding anything.
Also bear in mind that descriptions are written in the language common at the time. If you cannot find what you are looking for, try considering the language used to develop different keywords for your search.
5. How to find entries in copyright registers
All registers are held in record series COPY 3.
The copyright registers in the COPY 3 series are arranged chronologically and are not searchable by keyword in our online catalogue. There are, however, original indexes to some of the registers (listed in the tables below) arranged alphabetically by the name of the copyright proprietor. You can use the paper indexes to find a volume and page number for the entry in the respective register – you will need to visit us to do so.
When a register 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.
5.1 Books registers
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.
|Register types||References for registers||References for indexes||References for assignments, registers and indexes|
|Books, Literary and Commercial 1842-1883||COPY 3/1-29||COPY 3/81, COPY 3/91||COPY 3/1-29, COPY 3/101-102|
|Books, Literary 1883-1924||COPY 3/30-62||COPY 3/82-90||COPY 3/97-100, COPY 3/103|
|Books, Commercial 1883-1912||COPY 3/63-80||COPY 3/92-96||COPY 3/97-100, COPY 3/103|
5.2 Fine arts registers (including photographs, paintings and drawings)
The registers in this division include both original entries and assignments of all paintings, drawings and photographs registered.
From 1862 to 1883 all the fine arts entries are in a ‘General Series’ of registers.
|Register types||References for registers||References for indexes|
|Paintings, Drawings & Photographs 1862-1883 in ‘General series’ registers||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|
5.3 Foreign entries and registers
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 and so on are included in the General Series, at the end of each volume.
|Register types||References for registers||References for 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 Prints 1883-1888||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.
6. How to find Stationery Office records
All Stationery Office records are held in the STAT department.
Most of the Stationery Office records held at The National Archives are those of the working life of the office itself, as opposed to copyright records per se. However, the following records cover copyright issues and specific works of copyright:
7. Records and resources held elsewhere
7.1 Records of the Stationers’ Company held at Stationers’ Hall
For copyright records from between 1554 and 1842 and voluntary registrations from 1912 until April 2000, you should visit The Stationers’ Company archive. Please note that these records do not include copies of registered works.
To find individual records from 1710 to 1842 you need to consult the original registers at the archive itself and it’s essential to know the date of publication as no reliable index exists (there are less than perfect indexes up to 1750 and no indexes at all after 1750). For entries up to 1709 you can consult the transcripts in the following publications, though they are available only in specialist and academic libraries:
- A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London 1554-1640, ed Edward Arber (1875-1894)
- A Transcript of the Registers of the Worshipful Company of Stationers from 1640 to 1708 (1709), ed Briscoe Eyre (1913-1914)
The Stationers’ Company holds records of voluntary registration from 1912 to 2000. These records consist only of registers and do not include copies of registered works.
7.2 Copyright libraries
The following copyright libraries hold complimentary copies of publications:
- The British Library
- The Bodleian Library in Oxford
- The Cambridge University Library
- National Library of Scotland
- The library of Trinity College Dublin
- National Library of Wales
8. Further reading
The following publications are available at The National Archives’ library in Kew.
Sidney Hodgson, The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers: Archives and Portraits (Stationers’ Hall, 1953)
Hugh Barty-King, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office: the story of the first 200 years, 1786-1986 (H.M.S.O., 1986)
Robin Myers, The Stationers’ Company Archive: An Account of the Records 1554-1984 (St Paul’s Bibliographies, 1990)