The Pre-1870 Copyright Records
- The actual registrations – Congress provided a specific form for the registration in the 1790 and 1831 Acts, and the Clerk of the Court would either write it out or have application blanks printed where the applicant would fill in the title and other details (all the lost records were handwritten, as only the jurisdictions with a large volume of copyrights bothered to have blanks printed up). These were generally kept in a record book, meaning that there’s likely no missing records from the period covered by a record book.
- Title pages – Part of the procedure for registration was the deposit of a title page with the District Court, on which the Clerk would typically make a notation about the registration. These mostly go in-hand with the registration record, but in a few cases (like the New Hampshire records for 1821-1842 included in this project) they comprise the only record.
- Assignment records – As now, the Courts would record assignments of copyright and keep records of those assignments.
- Indices – As the name implies, these are indexes maintained by Courts to assist in locating the copyright registrations they’d made.
- Account books – the District of Massachusetts and likely others kept records of the funds paid for copyright registrations, and those records are included in this project.
Finding & Digitizing the Lost Records
Making the Lost Records Available
Records Still Missing
- Connecticut – No records exist from before 1804
- District of Columbia – No records exist from before 1845 (the State Dept. records indicate records from 1814-1844 may have survived from there).
- Georgia – No records exist from before 1845
- Florida – Essentially no records known before 1870
- Iowa – No records exist from before 1868
- Indiana – No records exist for between 1841 and 1853
- Kansas – No records exist from before 1865
- Louisiana – Records from before 1851 are extremely spotty – seven records from 1837 and 1838 were located as part of this project, but presumably many more existed at one point.
- Maryland – No records exist from before 1831 (presumably this represents a decent volume of records)
- Missouri – No records exist from before 1857 (State Dept. records indicates substitute records for 1834-1852)
- Mississippi – No records exist from before 1850
- North Carolina – North Carolina was divided into a large number of Districts in this time, and this project uncovered the records from Raleigh, which presumably had the greatest volume of copyright activity in the state. Scattered records exist from other Districts, including Cape Fear and Pamplico.
- Ohio – The copyright record book from the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio at Cincinnati for 1829-1842 is listed by Tanselle, but I have been unable to find it. The last mention of it was in a WPA Survey of federal records; this is the Form 58SA created by the WPA cataloging the volume. I’ve been in touch with the Court and the Chicago location of the National Archives, but neither one can find it.
- Rhode Island – No records exist from before 1831
- Texas – Almost no records exist from before 1867
- Virginia – No records exist from Richmond before 1863, as discussed above. A letter from 1863 indicates that the records had been destroyed in a recent fire (it’s unclear how the list of copyrights from before 1844 was created, presumably the letter was partly in error).
Looking at the Guide, people may note that there are also uploads of letter books as well as what I’m referring to as “ephemeral” copyright records, both held by the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. I plan to blog more about those next.
As I noted callings these records as “lost” is a bit misleading – or at least my wan attempt at clickbaiting. However, they have been essentially unknown, especially to the legal community, and I hope this will spur interest in a fascinating area where law and culture converged in early America.
- This is discussed in Ruth Shaw Leonard’s unpublished 1944 Master’s Thesis at Columbia Univ. “A Bibliographical Evaluation of the Copyright Records for the United States District Court of Massachusetts, 1800-1809.” ↩