Copyright Act 1911

The Copyright Act 1911, also known as the Imperial Copyright Act of 1911, is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom (UK) which received Royal Assent on 16 December 1911.[1] The act established copyright law in the UK and the British Empire. The act amended existing UK copyright law, as recommended by a Royal Commission in 1878[2] and repealed all previous copyright legislation that had been in force in the UK.[3] The act also implemented changes arising from the first revision of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1908.[3]

Copyright Act 1911
Long titleAn Act to amend and consolidate the Law relating to Copyright.
CitationGeo.6 5(1911) c.46
Royal assent16 December 1911
Commencement1 July 1912
Repealed5 November 1956 (in the United Kingdom)
21 January 1958 (in India)
1 May 1969 (in Australia)
1 January 1979 (in South Africa)
10 April 1987 (in Singapore)
1 December 1987 (in Malaysia)
1 January 1995 (in New Zealand)
27 June 1997 (in Hong Kong)
25 May 2008 (final repeal, in Israel)
Other legislation
Repealed byCopyright Act 1956 and Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1986 (in the United Kingdom)
Copyright Act 1957 (in India)
Copyright Act 1968 (in Australia)
Copyright Act, 1978 (in South Africa)
Copyright Act 1987 (Singapore) (in Singapore)
Copyright Act 1987 (Malaysia) (in Malaysia)
Copyright Act 1994 (in New Zealand)
Copyright Ordinance (Cap 528) (in Hong Kong)
Copyright Act 5778-2007 (in Israel)
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted

The act came into force in the UK on 1 July 1912, in the Channel Islands (except Jersey) on 1 July 1912, in Jersey on 8 March 1913, and in the Isle of Man on 5 July 1912. The Copyright Act 1911 applied or extended to all parts of the British Empire. In India the act came into force on 30 October 1912 (with some modifications in terms of its application to Indian law enacted in 1914), in Papua on 1 February 1931, and all other British possessions on 1 July 1912. It was subsequently enacted on various dates in the self-governing dominions and "territories under protection" of the British Empire.[4] "The Copyright Act 1911 (extension to Palestine), 1924 Ordinance" covered Mandatory Palestine and later the State of Israel, where in the latter it remained the governing statute until the Israeli 2007 Copyright Act took effect on 25 May 2008.[5]

The ActEdit

In the two centuries after the Statute of Anne of 1710, which afforded copyright protection to books, other works were afforded copyright protection either through case law, as in the case of music, or through Acts of Parliament, as in the case of engravings, paintings, drawings and photographs,[6] in legislation such as the Engraving Copyright Act 1734 and the Fine Arts Copyright Act 1862.[7]

The Copyright Act 1911 consolidated previous copyright statutes, and apart from minor exceptions, the Copyright Act 1911 repealed all previous copyright legislation and established a single statute covering all forms of copyright.

The 1911 Act implemented the Berne Convention, which abolished the common law copyright in unpublished works and responded to technological developments by conferring copyright on a new type of works not mentioned in the Berne Convention, namely sound recordings.[8]

The 1911 Act abolished the need for registration at the Stationers' Hall and provided that copyright is established upon the creation of a work. However, as the 1911 Act come into effect at different times in different countries of the Commonwealth, registration at Stationers' Hall continued to be required in some Commonwealth countries after 1911.[9] The Act also stated that copyright arose in the act of creation, not the act of publishing.[3]

The scope of copyright was further widened and producers of sound recordings were granted the exclusive right to prevent others reproducing their recordings, or playing them in public. The act provided that the copyright in literary, dramatic and music works could be infringed by the making of a film or other mechanical performance incorporating the copyrighted works.[3]

In Israel, the bulk of amendments were made by the Knesset not to the 1911 Act itself, but to the 1924 Ordinance applying it, resulting in a situation in which the two legal instruments were in conflict - for instance, while the Act set a copyright term of 50 years after the author's death, the Ordinance set a term of 70. Because the Knesset did not amend the Act to respond to further technological developments, the Courts had to apply the Act's definitions, which were centered on artistic works, or types of works not mentioned in it - for instance, phone books, newspapers, restaurant menus and even the codes of Computer Programs were legally deemed "books" for copyright purposes, regardless of their (usually nonexistent) artistic value. These "stretched-boundaries" definitions are maintained in the Copyright Act 5778-2007.[10]

Summary of changesEdit

British lawyer Evan James MacGillivray summarised the changes in the introduction of his annotated edition of the 1911 Act as follows:[2]

The principal changes which the Act will effect upon the existing law may be briefly summarised —

  1. Extension of the term of copyright to life and fifty years (Subject to certain exceptions).
  2. Provision that the last twenty-five years of the term of copyright shall be unassignable by the author during his lifetime.
  3. Provision that during the last twenty-five years any person may reproduce a work without consent on payment of a ten per cent royalty.
  4. Exclusive right of dramatising and translating secured to the author.
  5. Dramatic works entitled to protection include pieces in dumb show, ballets and cinematograph productions, and the copyright is infringed by the making or exhibiting of unauthorised cinematograph films.
  6. Subject to the right in certain circumstances of making records upon payment of a royalty, the composer of a musical composition gets the sole right of adapting his composition for use upon mechanical instruments.
  7. Subject to limitations in respect of remedies, and to the right of making paintings, drawings, engravings or photographs of any architectural work, architectural works are included among artistic works entitled to protection.
  8. Taking of short passages for insertion in school books is permitted.
  9. Subject to conditions and limitations, an exclusive right of oral delivery is conferred in respect of non-dramatic works, such as lectures, speeches and sermons.
  10. Summary remedies, hitherto confined to infringements of musical works, are made applicable to all classes of works, and to infringements of performing rights, but the remedies are not so complete as in the case of musical works.
  11. The National Library of Wales is, subject to limitations, included as one of the libraries entitled to free copies of books from the publishers.
  12. Copyright subsists from the time a work is created, the condition of protection being, in the case of an unpublished work, that the author is a British subject or resident, and in the case of a published work, that it was first published within the dominions to which the Act applies.
  13. Common law right in unpublished works is abrogated, but in the case of a literary, dramatic, or musical work, or an engraving, copyright subsists until publication notwithstanding the expiration of the period of life and fifty years, and if publication is posthumous, then for fifty years after publication.
  14. No copyright vests in the proprietor of a collective work unless the author is employed under a contract of service or apprenticeship, or there is an assignment in writing; and when the copyright vests in the proprietor of a periodical by reason of a contract of service or apprenticeship, the author may restrain separate publication.
  15. The passing of the copyright by reason of the work having been executed on commission is confined to the cases of engravings, photographs and portraits.
  16. The self-governing dominions are given a free hand in copyright matters. Each dominion may adopt or reject the Imperial Act as it pleases. Similarly, each dominion may adhere to the Revised Convention or to the original Berne Convention, or it may decline to adhere to either, and so place itself in the position of a non-union country.

Imperial copyright actEdit

Cover page of the British Copyright Act 1911, also known as the Imperial Copyright Act of 1911. "Part I Imperial Copyright. Rights. 1.(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, copyright shall subsist throughout the parts of His Majesty’s dominions to which this Act extends for the term hereinafter mentioned in every original literary dramatic music and artists work, if..."

With the exception of provisions that were expressly restricted to the United Kingdom by the act, all provisions of the Copyright Act 1911 applied "throughout His Majesty's dominions" and self-governing dominions if enacted by the parliament of that dominion without modifications that were not necessary to adapt the act "to the circumstances of the dominion". The Copyright Act 1911 was adapted to circumstances and enacted by the then self-governing dominions of Australia (Copyright Act 1912), Newfoundland (Newfoundland Copyright Act 1912) and the Union of South Africa (Patents, Designs, Trade Marks and Copyright Act 1916). The Copyright Act 1911 also provided that the UK Secretary of State could certify copyright laws passed in any self-governing dominion if the copyright legislation was “substantially identical” to those of the Copyright Act 1911. Though the Secretary of State could certify copyright law even if their provisions on copyright enforcement and the restriction on importation of works manufactured in “foreign countries” were not identical to that of the Copyright Act 1911. Such self-governing dominions were then treated as if the Copyright Act 1911 extended to the self-governing dominion. The Secretary of State certified the copyright laws of New Zealand (New Zealand Copyright Act 1913, certified April 1914) and Canada (Copyright Act of Canada 1923, certified 1923).[11]

The Copyright Act 1911 also provided that “His Majesty may, by Order in Council, extend this Act to any territories under his protection and to Cyprus” and the act would then apply to these countries as if they were dominions of the British Empire. In 1912 an Order in Council extended the Copyright Act 1911 to Cyprus and the following territories: Bechuanaland, East Africa, The Gambia, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Northern Nigeria, the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Southern Nigeria, the Solomon Islands, Swaziland, Uganda and Weihaiwei. The Copyright Act 1911 was extended to Palestine by an Order in Council in 1924, it was extended to Tanganyika by an Order in Council in 1924 and 1931, it was extended to the Federated Malay States by an Order in Council in 1931 and 1932, and it was extended to the Cameroons under British Mandate by an Order in Council in 1933.[12]

Influence of the actEdit

The Copyright Act 1911 provided the template for an approach to copyright exceptions where a specific list of exceptions carefully defines permitted uses of the copyrighted work. The 1911 Act formed the basis of UK copyright law and, as an imperial measure, formed the basis for copyright law in most of what were then British colonies and dominions. While many of these countries have had their own copyright law for a considerable number of years, most have followed the imperial model developed in 1911. Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa define the limits on and exceptions to copyright by providing an exhaustive list of specifically defined exceptions.[13]

Commonwealth approach to exceptionsEdit

This "Commonwealth approach" to copyright is in contrast with that adopted in US copyright law. US copyright does contain a number of specific exceptions, as well as providing for a fair use defence in section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976. The Section provides a list of illustrative example of uses under this defence, such as criticism, comment and research. In contrast to the Commonwealth fair dealing exceptions, the fair use defence allows US courts to find that a defendant's use is fair and hence not an infringement of copyright, even though the use does not fall within the statutory list provided for in Section 107.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Royal Assent
  2. ^ a b Macgillivray, E. J., The copyright act, 1911, annotated, 1912
  3. ^ a b c d Coyle, Michael (23 April 2003). "The History of Copyright". Lawdit. Retrieved 6 March 2010.
  4. ^ Patridge, R. C. Barrington (2008). The History of the Legal Deposit of Books. Read Books. pp. 154–155. ISBN 978-1-4437-2545-3.
  5. ^ Israel Copyright Act of 2007
  6. ^ Torremans, Paul (2007). Copyright law: a handbook of contemporary research. Edward Elgar Publishing. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-84542-487-9.
  7. ^ Mooney Cotter, Anne-Marie (2003). Intellectual Property Law. Routledge Cavendish. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-85941-805-5.
  8. ^ MacQueen, Hector L.; Waelde, Charlotte; Graeme T., Laurie (2007). Contemporary Intellectual Property: law and policy. Oxford University Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-19-926339-4.
  9. ^ Arnold-Baker, Charles (2001). The companion to British history. Routledge. p. 360. ISBN 978-0-415-18583-7.
  10. ^ Copyright Act 5778-2007, Section 1: "In this Act -..."Literary work" – including works expressed in writing, lectures, tables, compilations, and computer programs"
  11. ^ Patridge, R. C. Barrington (2008). The History of the Legal Deposit of Books. Read Books. p. 153. ISBN 978-1-4437-2545-3.
  12. ^ Patridge, R. C. Barrington (2008). The History of the Legal Deposit of Books. Read Books. p. 154. ISBN 978-1-4437-2545-3.
  13. ^ a b Burrell, Robert; Alison Coleman (2005). Copyright exceptions: the digital impact. Cambridge University Press. p. 249. ISBN 978-0-521-84726-1.

External linksEdit