Skip to main content

India's First 1847 Copyright Statute

I’ve been looking for the first Indian Copyright Act for a while, and finally found it today in a massive compilation of ‘The Legislative Acts of the Governor General in Council from 1834 to the End of 1867’ compiled by William Theobald, Esq., and published in 1868. I spent a large fraction of the day attempting to transcribe the Copyright Act (along with Mr. Theobald's notes on it) and have made the resulting document available here: [pdf]

It’s quite an interesting document, and appears to reveal copyright in its essence: barely an author’s right, it comes across as a publisher’s right. There are hints of the compulsory licensing regime to come, and there are also, in it, facets of copyright law which though no longer exist under the Indian statutory regime seem to remain in US law — the work-for-hire doctrine, specifically.

There is a reversionary right and, of course, the term of copyright itself is much shorter than what it is today. Not to mention that it focuses on books, and the right to copy (as opposed to the expanded spectrum of works and rights contemporary copyright contemplates).

What is particularly interesting though is that the document was clearly drafted in a rather fast-changing world. Yes, there is provision for copyright to be registered but there is also explicit statement in the Act that the non-registration of copyright would not affect the subsistence of copyright. Further, the non-registration of copyright only denied copyright owners the right to maintain a suit under the provisions of the 1847 Indian Copyright Act — the statute itself explicitly stated that owners of unregistered copyrights had ‘the right to sue or proceed in respect of the infringement thereof, except the right to sue or proceed in respect of the infringement thereof, under the provisions of this Act’.

Note: Mr. Theobald's compilation appears to be available via both Google Books and

(This post is by Nandita Saikia and was first published at Indian Copyright.)