The Trade and the Law
Copyright legislation, important as it was to the trade, was not of any great significance in the wider world of public affairs. The 1710 Act was essentially a measure granted by Parliament under pressure from a commercial group who were able to exercise enough influence to achieve a specific objective for their own purposes. From the point of view of the politicians, the end of pre-publication licensing had quite different implications. For the first time since the early sixteenth century, the men who ran the country’s affairs could not control what was printed and published, and the brief experience of a comparatively uncontrolled press in the early 1640s was not a happy precedent. In 1695, the Glorious Revolution was a very recent memory, and it was far from certain that it could not be reversed. There was still a substantial Jacobite faction at home; Louis XIV of France was, for his own reasons, willing to support the Stuarts against the House of Orange; and William III was not personally popular especially among those who suspected that his principal motive for accepting the crown was so that he could use English money and English soldiers to continue this long battle against French hegemony in north-west Europe. The brief unity of 1688 was lost, and the parties which had begun to emerge during the Exclusion Crisis became a permanent feature of the parliamentary and electoral landscape. The politicians had wrested a good deal of power from the crown, but they were still learning how to handle it. Nothing in their experience had taught them how to cope with unrestrained public attacks in print, and for many decades a controlled press continued to be seen as both desirable and normal by large and powerful groups of men.