About the Database
How to research Venetian book privileges
  1. What are book privileges?
  2. Where to find Venetian book privileges
  3. Understanding Venetian book privileges: Chronology
  4. Understanding Venetian book privileges: Structure and content
  5. Further reading and other resources on Venetian book privileges
1. What are book privileges?
A book privilege was a short-term guarantee of a protected market (temporary monopoly) granted to applicants by Venetian authorities to ensure that no competitor would publish, import or sell the same work in the domestic market. Penalties for offenders included the payment of a fine and the confiscation of the disputed stock. Applicants were mainly printers/publishers and authors.
Book privileges are crucial sources for the analysis of the book market, both from economic and cultural points of view. Studies of book privileges enable investigation of the commercial dynamics in which printers and authors were involved during the Renaissance. Such studies also allow tracing of the editorial paths of literary and scientific works.
2. Where to find Venetian book privileges
Originals of granted book privileges are preserved in the State Archives of Venice in the following sections: Collegio Notatorio, Senato Terra, Capi del Consiglio di Dieci.
Book privileges were also included, in whole or part, in protected editions of books. They can therefore be found in surviving copies of such books.
3. Understanding Venetian book privileges: Chronology
The database contains the book privileges granted from 1469 to 1545. It is a work in progress. Its final goal is to cover the period from 1469 to 1603.
On 18 September 1469, the Republic of Venice granted the first privilege to the German printer Johannes de Spira in recognition of his introduction of a new method of book production in the city.
On 7 February 1545, the Venetian Council of Ten issued a law prohibiting anyone from printing or selling books without having first obtained the license from the author or the author’s heirs. Although the Republic’s primary objective was to impose controls over the press, the 1545 law provided a legal definition of authorship for the first time. This protected authors’ interests against those of printers. Therefore, this decree represents an important stage in the evolution of authorial rights.
4. Understanding Venetian book privileges: Structure and content
An original book privilege concession may include some or all of the following information:
The short version of a privilege, most of the time, included the following elements, at a minimum:
In some cases, concessions contain only the name of the beneficiary.
5. Further readings and other resources on Venetian book privileges
Agee, Richard J. The Privilege and Venetian Music-Printing in the Sixteenth Century, Ph.D dissertation, Princeton University, 1982.
Fulin, Rinaldo. “Documenti per servire alla storia della tipografia veneziana”, Archivio Veneto, 23 (1882) 1, pp. 84-212.
Nuovo, Angela and Christian Coppens. I Giolito e la stampa nell’Italia del XVI secolo, Genève: Droz, 2005 (Travaux d’Humanisme et Renaissance, 402).
Nuovo, Angela. The Book Trade in the Italian Renaissance, Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2013 (Library of the Written Word, 26).
Squassina, Erika and Andrea Ottone (eds), Privilegi librari nell’Italia del Rinascimento, Milano: Franco Angeli, 2019 (Studi e ricerche di storia dell’editoria).
Squassina, Erika. “La protezione del Furioso: Ariosto e il sistema dei privilegi in Italia”, Bibliothecae.it, 6 (2017) 1, pp. 9-38.
Squassina, Erika. “Authors and the System of Publishers’ Privileges in Venice (1469-1545)”, Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, 91 (2016), pp. 42-74.
Witcombe, Christopher. Copyright in the Renaissance. Prints and the Privilegio in Sixteenth-Century Venice and Rome, Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2004 (Studies in Medieval and Reformation thought, 100).
Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900). Edited by L. Bently & M. Kretschmer (http://copy.law.cam.ac.uk/cam/index.php).
Contact information
Email: erika.squassina[at]unimi[dot]it