Our modern concept of copyright goes back to 1710, when the Parliament of Great Britain passed the Statute of Anne, also known as the Copyright Act. It provided for copyright regulated by the government and courts, rather than by private parties. Before that, copying restrictions fell under the Licensing of the Press Act of 1662. Those restrictions were enforced by the Stationers' Company, a guild of printers given the exclusive power to print —and the responsibility to censor— literary works. Censorship under the Licensing Act led to public protest. As the act had to be renewed every two years, authors sought to prevent its reauthorization. Finally, in 1694, Parliament refused to renew the Licensing Act. That ended the Stationers' monopoly and press restrictions. The Statute of Anne took over in 1710.
note: copyright law
The Statute of Anne, also known as the Copyright Act 1710 (cited either as 8 Ann. c. 21 or as 8 Ann. c. 19), is an act of the Parliament of Great Britain passed in 1710, which was the first statute to provide for copyright regulated by the government and courts, rather than by private parties. The complete Wikipedia article is excellent, here.
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