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Report: the ‘Legal Records Jamboree’, The National Archives, June 2023

Posted on    by Elena Cooper

Report: the ‘Legal Records Jamboree’, The National Archives, June 2023

By 7 November 2023No Comments

Logo of the National ArchivesIn the third of our series of blogs about CREATe’s contribution to events in summer 2023, we turn to a legal history event held at The National Archives, London and supported by The Journal of Legal History: The Legal Records Jamboree involved presentations from 39 researchers – both historians of law and legal historians – each explaining the importance of a single document in The National Archives’ collection to their research. The event was convened by Dr Charlotte Smith, Modern Legal Records Specialist, and follows the Modern Law Review Seminar: Legal History as a Tool of Law Reform, previously convened by Dr Smith at TNA in April 2022, to which CREATe also contributed.

The Legal Records Jamboree comprised short presentations about diverse legal records spanning the period 1399 to 1950. The programme, which is available here, included presentations on the contribution of particular documents to diverse legal subjects, for example:

  • the importance of quasi legal documents – confidential Instructions to Surveyors of Taxes – to the history of nineteenth century revenue law (Chantal Stebbings);
  • the contribution of an unreported ruling of the Privy Council (in relation to claims made to the Southern Rhodesia Lands Commission) to colonial legal history (Michael Lobban);
  • the survival of a document from 1598, marked ‘to be burned’, concerning sums paid to the Master of the Court of Wards and Liveries (David Ibbetson);
  • Colonial Office records from the late eighteenth century, including a 1795 Grenadian Act which followed an uprising against British rule, and committed named persons to high treason unless they submitted to justices (Chris Day);
  • how records of the Justices of Assize provide insights into the eighteenth century practice of coroners in the North of England (Helen Rutherford); and
  • how a claim made by an ‘unhappy wife’ against her husband opens questions for the history of eighteenth century matrimonial law (Emily Ireland).

The presentations were followed by a chance to view the original documents, under guidance of the researcher.

Also presenting at the Legal Records Jamboree was Dr Elena Cooper, CREATe, who spoke about the importance of finding a nineteenth century affidavit – evidence filed in legal proceedings from the nineteenth printseller, Henry Graves – to writing chapter 6 of Art and Modern Copyright: The Contested Image (CUP, 2018). The legal proceedings to which Graves’ affidavit relate were discontinued; no decision was ever delivered. Notwithstanding this, Graves’ affidavit was a crucial document in Dr Cooper’s research process: it is a unique source for how printsellers used photographic copyright in litigation before magistrates in the 1860s. Printsellers would register their own photographs of engravings (under the Fine Arts Copyright Act 1862) where they also owned copyright in the engraving itself (under the eighteenth century Engraving Acts); printsellers would then allege that copyright in their photographs of the engravings was infringed by a defendant’s independently taken photographs of the same engravings (despite the fact that there was no copying from the copyright photograph itself). This approach to infringement is set out in Graves’ affidavit: the allegedly infringing photograph ‘could not fail’ to be a copy because it was a ‘perfect, precise and exact’ copy ‘line to line and dot for dot’ of the original (para. 9-10, quoted in Art and Modern Copyright p.237). The printseller’s allegation of copying, then, was of aspects of the engraving recorded in the printseller’s photograph, not the photograph itself. Having found this express statement of Graves’ approach to photographic copyright infringement, Dr Cooper could then look to other archival sources – COPY records at The National Archives and press reports of magistrates’ rulings – and uncover the more general practice on the part of printsellers to using photographic copyright as a covert means of successfully litigating engraving copyright before magistrates. This practice provides the context for the ruling of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Graves Case (1869).

Central to the Legal Records Jamboree was the significance of archival research to legal history; primary sources are integral to the legal historical research process. This theme was also celebrated by CREATe’s copyright history conference this term: Fifteen Years of Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), Glasgow 16-17 October 2023.