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The Author's Due: Printing and the Prehistory of Copyright. By Joseph Loewenstein. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. x + 349 pp.
In "What Is an Author?" Michel Foucault turned on its head the liberal tradition of the autonomous author escaping the repressive constraints of the state. According to Foucault, the state's desire to police the book trade made it compulsory to attach all discourse to an author who could then be held responsible and, if necessary, punished. In The Author's Due Joseph Loewenstein brilliantly displaces Foucault's history of authorship. While granting full weight to the complex and often contradictory powers of the state, Loewenstein puts the economic regulation of mechanical reproduction at the center of the history of printed books.
The main argument of The Author's Due is that the regulation of the book trade was done less from outside by the state than internally by the Stationers' Company. On the understanding that they would police themselves, the London stationers were granted an effective monopoly on the production of printed books, their only official rivals being the university presses at Oxford and Cambridge. But the stationers' monopoly was threatened by two other kinds of monopolies: those of individual stationers who owned the rights to best-selling books like the Bible and school textbooks, and those awarded by the …