Copyright – Who Invented It?

Now that COVID-19 has imposed limits on creativity, I’ve had time to think about copyright. Sounds dull? Not in the least!

Lots of people probably know that it all started in France, but far fewer know it was Beaumarchais who ‘invented’ it. Yes, Beaumarchais, he of The Marriage of Figaro.. Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, born in Paris in 1732 was watchmaker, courtier, musician, speculator, author, publisher, secret agent, arms dealer and revolutionary. Quite a colourful character then.

It was really his renown as an author that made him rebel. After the success of his Barber of Seville he was fed up with the way he was being treated by the actors of the Comédie Francaise. So on the 3rd of July 1777 he invited his fellow writers and fellow sufferers to dinner. After all, the best discussions take place over a decent meal. The Supper of the Thirty (Yes, there were thirty of them, all under one roof, all in one room) made history. On that evening Beaumarchais suggested to his colleagues that they form an organisation for the protection of creative rights: the Society of Playwrights and Composers. Only 50 years later, this society was to become the SACD, still with us in Paris.

In 1841 Lamartine demanded an international system of rights for authors, but it wasn’t till 1886 that Victor Hugo gave it a push – or rather a kick – in order to create a European system of authors’ rights, thereby illustrating that authors, translators composers – along with their agents – have always been pioneers in the field of European culture.