A List of Labels and Other Unusual Copyright Registrations, Compiled in 1859

Although most of the copyright records from before 1870 are held in the Rare Book Room of the Library of Congress, the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress also has substantial holdings of miscellaneous documents regarding copyright before 1870 in the Library’s Archives, most of which seem to be sourced from the State Department or the Library itself.

I’ve gone through the four boxes of copyright records in the Library of Congress Archives, and there’s fascinating stuff there, which I will likely base several more posts around what’s there.  But while giving a talk at the Works in Progress in IP Colloquium this past weekend (which Rebecca Tushnet liveblogged, for those interested), I mentioned a list I found there of what I’ve been referring to as “irregular” copyright registrations that was compiled in 1859, although the document is entitled “Catalogue of Trade-Marks, Lables, &c, Arranged by State.”  In the same file was what appears to be a supplement, which brings the coverage of this document up to 1861.  The document does not give a specific starting date, although a non-systematic look at the document shows that the earliest date on it is 1818.

The document is available here.  Note that it is presented as two separate documents on the Internet Archive – it defaults to the 1861 Supplement, but the link to the main 1859 document is just below the document itself (direct link to the main 1859 document here).  The document is a list of product labels but also other materials including almanacs, charts, and miscellaneous other works registered for copyright that were not the sort of books commonly thought of when copyright was mentioned.

It’s not entirely clear to me who created this list, or why it was created; it would have involved substantial work to assemble it from the various District Courts all over the country that were doing copyright registrations at the time.  However, my best guess relates to the battle over copyright registration in patent medicine labels, something I wrote about on pp. 350-352 of my article Reimagining Bleistein.1  Briefly, in 1856 the Secretary of State had sent out a circular, on the urging of the Clerk of the District Court for the Northern District of New York,  stating that product labels were not the proper subject of copyright and should not be registered.  Three years later in 1859 the Patent Office took over responsibility for copyright deposits and issued a similar circular, which I’ve included a transcription of below.  My guess is that the effort to create a catalog of nonstandard copyright registrations was part of the same effort that produced this circular:

As the acts of Congress relating to copyright are designed to promote the acquisition and diffusion of knowledge, and to encourage the production and publication of works of art; and as the “map, chart, musical composition, print, cut or engraving” to be protected by copyright must have a title applicable to itself, which title is to be recorded, it is therefore held that stamps, labels and other trade-marks of any manufactured article, goods or merchandise are not embraced within the meaning of the acts.2

  1.  https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1507125
  2. Circular reproduced in The Law of Copyright, N.Y. Times, July 25, 1859

Author: Zvi S. Rosen

Lawyer and sometimes academic. I've written a fair deal about the evolution of intellectual property law into its present form, this blog is a way to share things that don't fit into a full-length article.

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