Elena Cooper

Field, Blaine and the Artistic Copyright Committee of the Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce 1857-1862

Elena Cooper

Orton Fellow in Law, Trinity Hall, Cambridge


While the history of the painting copyright provisions of the Fine Arts Copyright Act 18621 has been the subject of recent scholarship,2 very little is known about the detail of the debates that took place in the body which led the campaign for reform: the Artistic Copyright Committee of the Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Appointed in 1857 under the Chairmanship of Sir Charles Eastlake (then President of the Royal Academy of Arts), the Committee drew together representatives from a broad cross-section of the Victorian art-world, including collectors, museum administrators, engravers, photographers, sculptors, architects and painters.

Drawing on previously unpublished archival material, this paper will chart the history of the debates in the Copyright Committee in the period from 1857 to 1862. Particular prominence will be given to the contrasting positions taken by the Committee’s two lawyer protagonists: Edwin Wilkins Field and Delabere Roberton Blaine. Using the different visions of copyright put forward by Field and Blaine as a starting point, the paper will tease out the themes and legal issues surrounding artistic copyright which came to be debated in the later nineteenth and early twentieth century, to codification in 1911. In doing so, the paper will consider the legacy of these mid-nineteenth century debates, reflecting on to what extent the Artistic Copyright Committee of 1857-1862 was a microcosm for the interests and positions on copyright which came to played out later in that century and beyond.

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