Friday, November 9, 2007

Leeming on Hawkesworth's Voyages: The First "Australian" Copyright Litigation

Mark Leeming, University of Sydney, has posted a new article, Hawkesworth's Voyages: The First "Australian" Copyright Litigation. It appeared in the Australian Journal of Legal History. Here's the abstract:

In 1773, ex parte injunctions were granted by the Lord Chancellor, later to be dissolved, in two suits directed to protecting the valuable property in Hawkesworth's Voyages, the first authorised account of Cook's circumnavigation of the globe. In one sense, those proceedings were the first Australian copyright litigation. Both suits were commenced at a critical moment in the development of the law of copyright, in the period between Millar v Taylor in 1769 and its overruling in Donaldson v Becket in 1774, when the celebrated "Question of Literary Property" was debated at large and when the law in England was that common law copyright was not extinguished by statute and was of unlimited duration. Fortuitously, those circumstances had enabled Dr. John Hawkesworth, commissioned by the Admiralty to write up Cook's journal, to command an enormous advance from his publisher Strahan, but ironically his Voyages became invoked as a leading example of the restrictive practices of the London publishers in support of the overruling of Millar v Taylor judicially and legislatively.

Despite the foregoing, neither suit is well known. The first, Hawkesworth v Parkinson, although well-publicised at the time, is unreported and seemingly unmentioned by all texts. The second, Strahan v Newbery, is reported only as an anonymous and undated decision from the Chancellor's Court. However, because the publications which were the subject of the litigation have survived and because the Chancery records have been fairly well preserved, it is possible to revisit the proceedings in some detail.

Image credit: detail from Hawkesworth's Voyages (1) and (2).