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This talk explores the role of law in producing, using and circulating geographical knowledge through an examination of the emergence and application of copyright legislation in eighteenth-century Britain. Copyright law plays a key, but contradictory, role in this field because its statutory origins lie in an Act which proclaimed its purpose to be ‘the encouragement of learning’ while the proprietary rights it created were frequently deployed to restrict dissemination of texts containing knowledge. This talk investigates this tension through an examination of a number of legal disputes that arose relating to the unauthorised copying of maps and road books. The cases offer a rich source of information about the trade practices of London mapmakers and booksellers, their changing strategies to protect their investment in geographical information and its graphic and textual representation, and the effect of both the law and business practices on the circulation of geographical knowledge.

Isabella Alexander is a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney. She is the author of Copyright and the Public Interest in the Nineteenth Century (Hart, 2010). Her most recent publications include ‘Copyright and the Circulation of Geographical Knowledge in Eighteenth-Century Britain’ in Forms, Formats and the Circulation of Knowledge: British Printscape’s Innovations, 1688–1832 (2020), edited by Lousiane Ferlier and Benedicte Miyamoto, and ‘A Game Map: Object of Copyright and Form of Authority in Eighteenth-Century Britain’, co-authored with Cristina S Martinez and published in Imago Mundi (2020).


Please note that registration for this seminar will close 24 hours in advance so that the meeting link can be distributed to registered attendees.


All welcome- this seminar is free to attend, but booking is required.