The "Extraordinary Multiplicity" of Intellectual Property Laws in the British Colonies in the Nineteenth Century

Lionel Bently


Although a great deal of attention has been paid to the history of intellectual property in Great Britain, very little has been said about the history of intellectual property law in the British colonies. This Article attempts an overview, focusing on the nineteenth century. The author argues that there was no apparent imperial strategy as to the development of colonial intellectual property laws, and that, as a consequence wide variations existed between the laws operative in Britain and the colonies. One exception to this picture existed in relation to literary copyright, where, for reasons that were never clearly articulated, British law had been extended to its colonies from 1814. The overall picture was otherwise one of "legal fecundity," with capacity for variation and experiment by the colonial legislatures constrained more by internalized notions of what was appropriate than by formal, external, limitations imposed from Britain. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century, there appeared a growing desire both in Great Britain, and amongst many of the colonies and self-governing dominions, for a greater level of uniformity.

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