In 1709 British parliament enacted the Statute of Anne; short title: Copyright Act 1709 8 Anne c.21; long title: An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned. Named after Anne, Queen of Great Britain, this was the first copyright statute in the Kingdom of Great Britain, and the first full-fledged copyright statute in the world. It was enacted in the regnal year 1709 to 1710, and entered into force on April 10, 1710.
The Statute of Anne granted publishers of books legal protection for 14 years with the commencement of the statute. It also granted 21 years of protection for any book already in print. At the expiration of the first 14 year copyright term the copyright re-vested in its author, if he or she were still alive, for a further term of 14 years.
"The statute determined that the 'copy' was the 'sole liberty of printing and reprinting' a book and this liberty could be infringed by any person who printed, reprinted or imported the book without consent. Those infringing copyright had to pay a fine of one penny for every sheet of the book, one moiety of which went to the author, the other to the Crown. In today’s terms this was a considerable fine. In addition the book in question was to be destroyed. Leaving in place the existing system of registration, the statute specified that action against infringement could only be brought if the title had been entered in the register at the Stationers' Company before publication. The formal requirements of registration enabled users to locate the owners of copyrighted works. The requirement for copies of published books to be deposited in university libraries ensured that there was public access to copyrighted works.
"The statute was the first to recognise the legal right of authorship, but it did not provide a coherent understanding of authorship or authors' rights. While the statute established the author as legal owner, and so providing the basis for the development of authors' copyright, it also provided a 21 year copyright term to books already in print. At the end of the 21 years granted by the statute the concept of literary property was still a booksellers' rather than an author' concern, as most authors continued to sell their works outright to booksellers. Given that the statute primarily intended to encourage public learning and to regulate the book trade, any benefits for authors in the statute were incidental. Throughout the 18th century, at the encouragement of the booksellers, rather than the authors, an understanding emerged that copyright originated in author's rights to the product of his labour. Thus it was argued that the primary purpose of copyright was to protect authors' rights, not the policy goal of encouraging public learning" (Wikipedia article on Statute of Anne, accessed 08-06-2011).
In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the original UK Parliament manuscript copy of the act was available from Primary Sources on Copyright at this link.