CREATe Public Lecture – Copyright and Cartography: History, Law, and the Circulation of Geographical Knowledge

Posted on    by Andreas Giorgallis
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CREATe Public Lecture – Copyright and Cartography: History, Law, and the Circulation of Geographical Knowledge

Banner for the CREATe Public Lecture Series 2023-24 showing the logos of CREATe and the University of Glasgow. The banner background is a detail of the map The Road from Glasgow to Longtown by Hamilton, Douglass Mill & Moffat (1776) – mapmakers: Taylor, George, fl. 1760-1788; Skinner, Andrew, fl. 1760-1788 – available on the National Library of Scotland’s website and discussed in Prof. Isabella Alexander’s monograph Copyright and Cartography (Bloomsbury, 2023).

Isabella Alexander, Professor of Law at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia, delivered the second CREATe Public Lecture of Autumn 2023 on 1 November 2023, continuing a thread of diverse histories of copyright law. The lecture was held in the Humanity Lecture Theatre, University of Glasgow, with Dr. Marta Iljadica acting as chair and Dr. Elena Cooper as commentator. In this blog post, CREATe PhD student Andreas Giorgallis  shares his reflections. You will find an audio recording at the end of the post, which will be available until 7 May 2024.

In this illuminating public lecture, Prof. Alexander provided some insights from her new open access book “Copyright and Cartography: History, Law and the Circulation of Geographical Knowledge” published by Bloomsbury in July 2023. More information about the rich history of copyright law and maps – this book aside – covering inter alia relevant statutes, judicial proceedings and offering a highly interactive website visualizing the maps’ journeys around the world is to be found at launched by Prof. Alexander in 2019.

Prof Isabella Alexander giving her talk
Prof Isabella Alexander continues her talk.
Isabella Alexander and Elena Cooper chatting
Isabella Alexander and Elena Cooper laughing.
Isabella Alexander seated at a wooden table, delivering her public lecture
Isabella Alexander looking away at a a screen to check her notes while delivering her public lecture
Elena Cooper turns towards Isabella Alexander to ask her a question; the latter smiles.
Isabella Alexander and Elena Cooper laughing during the post-lecture discussion.
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photos by Weiwei Yi, PhD researcher

Placing Maps in the Histories of Copyright Law

Prof. Alexander commenced by sharing that she was long pre-occupied with the subject. The initial seeds for the history of copyright law and maps go back to a lecture taking place in Cambridge around 12 years ago. The end of this intellectual voyage culminated with the writing of this book. Towards that direction, Prof. Alexander set out to provide a birds’ eye view.

Prof. Alexander started her lecture by making clear that the book seeks to appeal to two different yet interconnected audiences. It seeks to marry together two disciplines that do not usually dare to look each other’s work: on the one hand historians of the map and print culture and on the other hand historians of copyright law. In so doing, this book constitutes the first account which attempts to narrate a history of copyright law and its relation to maps drawing amongst others on map historians’ work (e.g. Edney, 2014). Before going into the substantive part of the lecture Prof. Alexander underlined that particular attention in this discussion is placed upon judicial proceedings, people and maps. By exploring the experiences of the law from the vantage point of the people of the past, Prof. Alexander explained, this book employs around 17 relevant cases over a period of more than 200 years illustrating how concepts were understood or, at times, misunderstood.

The first part of this lecture chronicled the early encounters of pre-statute copyright era in Britain covering the impressive period between around the 15th until the dawn of the 18th century. Two early examples were selected in order to provide a glimpse of this period: the actions or inactions of the one of most famous mapmakers Richard Blome (1635-1705) and his competitor John Ogilby (1600-1676) in respect of his “English Atlas”.

Turning the pages of history, the presentation moved to the 18th century. Prof. Alexander started with well-known Statute of Anne (1710) clarifying that it was only applicable to books containing maps. That gave rise to the question what happens with maps that were outside the scope of books. To this end the Engravings Act (1735) was adopted offering protection to persons who “shall invent and design, engrave, etch or work” a map. Yet this legislation was not without its own shortcomings. The crucial issue before Courts was whether the legislation meant that the mapmaker should “invent and design” the map with judicial fora responding in the affirmative in cases like Jefferys v Baldwin (1752). The litigation emerged from legislation’s ambiguities led ultimately to positive legislative change. The Engravings Act (1767) expanded this protection to 28 from the then 14 years where 10 years later further improvements were brought with the Engravings Act (1777).

Two indicative judicial proceedings characterize the 18th century. Jefferys v Bowles (1770), Prof. Alexander observed, probably constitutes the first case involving a copyright infringement claim in respect to a map based on the Engravings Act (1767). Being in Glasgow Prof. Alexander kindly endeavored to underline any available Scottish connections with considerable success referring to the case of Bowles v. Sayer (1780) which concerned a map depicting Scotland with the case ultimately being settled out of courts. Assembling the threads of those cases, Prof. Alexander underlined, they do illustrate a beginning of a shift in mapmakers’ perceptions over the law. Simultaneously the 19th century saw a more intense confluence between public and private interests and mapmaking. Not only mapmaking was an issue of public affairs, employed for instance for military and security reasons, but it also maintained an ever-growing importance for trade and commercial purposes. An example of this transformation originating once again in Scotland constitutes the map seller W & AK Johnston (1855) publishing a map of Scotland yet in a different scale from that of the Ordnance Survey. In bringing this presentation to an end Prof. Alexander stopped just before the outbreak of the World War I briefly touching upon the 1911 Imperial Copyright Act.


Following this tour d’ horizon a fascinating discussion followed. Dr Elena Cooper in reflecting on Prof. Alexander’s presentation underlined two themes. First and foremost, the importance of engaging in multi-disciplinary work. With inputs from both disciplines, histories of map as well as of print and histories of copyright law, the new book of Prof. Alexander casts a great deal of new light on how such discussions can establish richer histories. As Dr Cooper put it, avoiding any cursory readings of doing history of copyright law and archival work – people of CREATe (CREATers) can learn a lot – from this impressive multi-disciplinary breadth and depth of the book and how it intwines with themes like the changing commerce, culture, trade and technology. What was also remarkable for Dr Cooper was the fact that the Engravings Act (1767) offered for the first-time explicit copyright protection to maps – not to their authors on the basis of creativity of original works – but by privileging instead map publishers responsible for the printing of copies.

Chaired by Dr. Marta Iljadica questions were gathered from the audience. These can be distinguished in largely two categories. A set of questions twisted around the possible classification of maps as artistic works as well as the role of people in judicial proceedings related to maps and copyright law. Finally, the second set of questions circled around the book’s reception from different disciplinary audiences.


The audio recording, accompanied by an on screen transcript, will be available until 7 May 2024.