[Ip-health] No Copyright Law: The Real Reason for Germany's Industrial Expansion?

Claire Cassedy ccassedy2 at gmail.com
Tue Jun 17 06:21:15 PDT 2014


No Copyright Law: The Real Reason for Germany's Industrial Expansion?

By Frank Thadeusz

August 18, 2010 – 04:52 PM

Did Germany experience rapid industrial expansion in the 19th century due
to an absence of copyright law? A German historian argues that the massive
proliferation of books, and thus knowledge, laid the foundation for the
country's industrial might.

The entire country seemed to be obsessed with reading. The sudden passion
for books struck even booksellers as strange and in 1836 led literary
critic Wolfgang Menzel to declare Germans "a people of poets and thinkers."

"That famous phrase is completely misconstrued," declares economic
historian Eckhard Höffner, 44. "It refers not to literary greats such as
Goethe and Schiller," he explains, "but to the fact that an incomparable
mass of reading material was being produced in Germany."
Höffner has researched that early heyday of printed material in Germany and
reached a surprising conclusion -- unlike neighboring England and France,
Germany experienced an unparalleled explosion of knowledge in the 19th

German authors during this period wrote ceaselessly. Around 14,000 new
publications appeared in a single year in 1843. Measured against population
numbers at the time, this reaches nearly today's level. And although novels
were published as well, the majority of the works were academic papers.

The situation in England was very different. "For the period of the
Enlightenment and bourgeois emancipation, we see deplorable progress in
Great Britain," Höffner states.

Equally Developed Industrial Nation

Indeed, only 1,000 new works appeared annually in England at that time --
10 times fewer than in Germany -- and this was not without consequences.
Höffner believes it was the chronically weak book market that caused
England, the colonial power, to fritter away its head start within the span
of a century, while the underdeveloped agrarian state of Germany caught up
rapidly, becoming an equally developed industrial nation by 1900.

Even more startling is the factor Höffner believes caused this development
-- in his view, it was none other than copyright law, which was established
early in Great Britain, in 1710, that crippled the world of knowledge in
the United Kingdom.

Germany, on the other hand, didn't bother with the concept of copyright for
a long time. Prussia, then by far Germany's biggest state, introduced a
copyright law in 1837, but Germany's continued division into small states
meant that it was hardly possible to enforce the law throughout the empire.

Höffner's diligent research is the first academic work to examine the
effects of the copyright over a comparatively long period of time and based
on a direct comparison between two countries, and his findings have caused
a stir among academics. Until now, copyright was seen as a great
achievement and a guarantee for a flourishing book market. Authors are only
motivated to write, runs the conventional belief, if they know their rights
will be protected.

Yet a historical comparison, at least, reaches a different conclusion.
Publishers in England exploited their monopoly shamelessly. New discoveries
were generally published in limited editions of at most 750 copies and sold
at a price that often exceeded the weekly salary of an educated worker.

London's most prominent publishers made very good money with this system,
some driving around the city in gilt carriages. Their customers were the
wealthy and the nobility, and their books regarded as pure luxury goods. In
the few libraries that did exist, the valuable volumes were chained to the
shelves to protect them from potential thieves.

In Germany during the same period, publishers had plagiarizers -- who could
reprint each new publication and sell it cheaply without fear of punishment
-- breathing down their necks. Successful publishers were the ones who took
a sophisticated approach in reaction to these copycats and devised a form
of publication still common today, issuing fancy editions for their wealthy
customers and low-priced paperbacks for the masses.

A Multitude of Treatises

This created a book market very different from the one found in England.
Bestsellers and academic works were introduced to the German public in
large numbers and at extremely low prices. "So many thousands of people in
the most hidden corners of Germany, who could not have thought of buying
books due to the expensive prices, have put together, little by little, a
small library of reprints," the historian Heinrich Bensen wrote
enthusiastically at the time.

The prospect of a wide readership motivated scientists in particular to
publish the results of their research. In Höffner's analysis, "a completely
new form of imparting knowledge established itself."

Essentially the only method for disseminating new knowledge that people of
that period had known was verbal instruction from a master or scholar at a
university. Now, suddenly, a multitude of high-level treatises circulated
throughout the country.

The "Literature Newspaper" reported in 1826 that "the majority of works
concern natural objects of all types and especially the practical
application of nature studies in medicine, industry, agriculture, etc."
Scholars in Germany churned out tracts and handbooks on topics such as
chemistry, mechanics, engineering, optics and the production of steel.

In England during the same period, an elite circle indulged in a classical
educational canon centered more on literature, philosophy, theology,
languages and historiography. Practical instruction manuals of the type
being mass-produced in Germany, on topics from constructing dikes to
planting grain, were for the most part lacking in England. "In Great
Britain, people were dependent on the medieval method of hearsay for the
dissemination of this useful, modern knowledge," Höffner explains.

The German proliferation of knowledge created a curious situation that
hardly anyone is likely to have noticed at the time. Sigismund Hermbstädt,
for example, a chemistry and pharmacy professor in Berlin, who has long
since disappeared into the oblivion of history, earned more royalties for
his "Principles of Leather Tanning" published in 1806 than British author
Mary Shelley did for her horror novel "Frankenstein," which is still famous

'Lively Scholarly Discourse'

The trade in technical literature was so strong that publishers constantly
worried about having a large enough supply, and this situation gave even
the less talented scientific authors a good bargaining position in relation
to publishers. Many professors supplemented their salaries with substantial
additional income from the publication of handbooks and informational

Höffner explains that this "lively scholarly discourse" laid the basis for
the Gründerzeit, or foundation period, the term used to describe the rapid
industrial expansion in Germany in the late 19th century. The period
produced later industrial magnates such as Alfred Krupp and Werner von
The market for scientific literature didn't collapse even as copyright law
gradually became established in Germany in the 1840s. German publishers
did, however, react to the new situation in a restrictive way reminiscent
of their British colleagues, cranking up prices and doing away with the
low-price market.

Authors, now guaranteed the rights to their own works, were often annoyed
by this development. Heinrich Heine, for example, wrote to his publisher
Julius Campe on October 24, 1854, in a rather acerbic mood: "Due to the
tremendously high prices you have established, I will hardly see a second
edition of the book anytime soon. But you must set lower prices, dear
Campe, for otherwise I really don't see why I was so lenient with my
material interests."

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