Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Congress of Vienna 1814: 200 Years of Copyright Lobbying

The 100th anniversary of the commencement of World War 1 has, quite understandably, overshadowed another, older anniversary: 200 years since the outbreak of peace, manifested in the form of the Congress of Vienna.

The principle purpose of the Congress of Vienna was for the victors of the Napoleonic Wars to work out what to do with European’s re-drawn borders. Napoleon Bonaparte had deposed some kings and installed others, created new fiefdoms and abolished others. The Tsar of Russia, the King of Bavaria, the Duke of Wellington, Metternich, Talleyrand, and many other heads of state and diplomatic luminaries, were in Vienna to either grant justice to the deposed, or, more typically, expand their own spheres of influence and block the encroachment of rivals.

But some others saw opportunities to lobby the gathered powers. A collection of German publishers presented a petition entitled 'Crisis of the German Book Trade Caused by German Publishers', dealing with both copyright protection and freedom of the press.

In language which seems startlingly modern 200 years later, the petition asked that, “writers, printers, and publishers are accorded security in their intellectual property by means of a legally enforced “Ban on Literary Piracy”” (in the same form decreed by the United Netherlands).

The petition was opposed by copyright pirates based in Vienna, but was ultimately successful in giving publishers rights to re-printing particularly in the newly formed German Confederation.

This was, as far as I know, the first example of an intellectual property lobby group making representations at an international forum – something quite commonplace today and in fact, manifested by TRIPs, one of the fundamental underpinnings of the World Trade Organisation treaty.