Did Germany experience rapid industrial expansion in the 19th century due to an absence of copyright law? A German historian argues that the massive proliferation of books, and thus knowledge, laid the foundation for the country’s industrial might.
He believes that copyright law, which was established in Great Britain in 1710, crippled the world of knowledge in the United Kingdom, but in Germany, where copyright law did not take hold until the mid-19th century, its absence created a climate in which knowledge spread rapidly.
In England, new discoveries were generally published in limited editions of at most 750 copies and sold at a price that often exceeded the weekly salary of an educated worker. In the few libraries that existed, the valuable volumes were chained to the shelves to protect them from potential thieves.
In Germany, publishers devised a form of publication still common today: issuing fancy editions for their wealthy customers and low-priced paperbacks for the masses. Thus, as described by a contemporary writer, “So many thousands of people in the most hidden corners of Germany, who could not have thought of buying books due to the expensive prices, have put together, little by little, a small library of reprints.”