The Stationers’ Register, also known as the Stationers’ Company Register, was a historic record maintained by the Worshipful Company of Stationers, a London guild of printers, booksellers, and publishers. The Register played a significant role in the regulation and control of printing and publishing in England for several centuries.
Purpose and Establishment: The Stationers’ Register was established in 1557 as a response to the increasing proliferation of printed material in England. Queen Mary I granted a royal charter to the Stationers’ Company, allowing it to have authority over the publication and distribution of books and printed works. The main purpose of the Register was to exercise control over the printing trade and to prevent the unauthorized printing and dissemination of books.
Registration of Titles: Publishers and printers were required by law to enter their books’ titles and related information into the Stationers’ Register before publishing them. This process, known as “entering” a work, served as a form of copyright protection, granting the stationer (publisher) exclusive rights to publish and sell the work for a specific period. This practice aimed to prevent piracy and ensure that authors and publishers were rewarded for their creative efforts.
Censorship and Regulation: The Register also served as a means of censorship and control over the content of printed materials. Entries were reviewed by the Stationers’ Company to ensure that the content was in line with the political, religious, and social standards of the time. This allowed authorities to monitor and suppress works that were deemed seditious, heretical, or otherwise objectionable.
Changes and Impact: Over time, the Stationers’ Register played a role in shaping the development of the English publishing industry. However, as the demand for printed materials increased and the control of information became more challenging, the system began to face difficulties. The Statute of Anne in 1710 marked a significant shift in copyright law, granting authors more control over their works and weakening the Stationers’ Company’s monopoly.
End of the Register: The Stationers’ Register gradually lost its significance and influence as copyright laws evolved and the publishing industry changed. It eventually ceased to function as a central regulatory authority for copyright and censorship. The Copyright Act of 1842, which established a more modern system of copyright registration and protection, marked the final blow to the Stationers’ Register.
Despite its eventual decline and demise, the Stationers’ Register remains a notable historical artifact that provides insights into the early history of copyright, publishing, and censorship in England. It offers a glimpse into the efforts to control the flow of information during a time of rapid technological and societal change.