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The End of Pre-Publication Censorship Stimulates Newspapers and Other Publishing in England

Painting of John Locke by Geoffrey Kneller (1697). Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Painting of John Locke by Geoffrey Kneller (1697). Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia.

In 1695 lapse of the Printing Act in England ended pre-publication censorship in that country, stimulating the growth of newspapers and other publications.

"... On 18 April 1695, Edward Clarke met with representatives of the Lords, and they agreed to allow the Continuation Bill to pass without the renewal of the Licensing Act.[3] With this, "the Lords' decision heralded an end to a relationship that had developed throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries between the State and the Company of Stationers",[24] ending both nascent publishers' copyright and the existing system of censorship.[24]

John Locke's close relationship with Clarke, along with the respect he commanded, is seen by academics as what led to this decision.[24] Locke had spent the early 1690s campaigning against the statute, considering it "ridiculous" that the works of dead authors were held perpetually in copyright.[25] In letters to Clarke he wrote of the absurdity of the existing system, complaining primarily about the unfairness of it to authors, and "[t]he parallels between Locke's commentary and those reasons presented by the Commons to the Lords for refusing to renew the 1662 Act are striking".[26] He was assisted by a number of independent printers and booksellers, who opposed the monopolistic aspects of the Act, and introduced a petition in February 1693 that the Act prevented them from conducting their business.[25] The "developing public sphere",[2] along with the harm the existing system had caused to both major political parties, is also seen as a factor.[27]

The failure to renew the Licensing Act led to confusion and both positive and negative outcomes; while the government no longer played a part in censoring publications, and the monopoly of the Company over printing was broken, there was uncertainty as to whether or not copyright was a binding legal concept without the legislation.[15] Economic chaos also resulted; with the Company now unable to enforce any monopoly, provincial towns began establishing printing presses, producing cheaper books than the London booksellers. The absence of the censorship provisions also opened Britain up as a market for internationally printed books, which were similarly cheaper than those British printers could produce.[28] (, accessed 8-2020)

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