Beard Patentee: Daguerrotype Property and Authorship

Edwards, Stephen (2013). Beard Patentee: Daguerrotype Property and Authorship. Oxford Art Journal, 36(3) pp. 369–394.



This is major study of early British photography (daguerreotypes), patent law and authorship based on extensive archival research, examination of the current literature on intellectual property law, and theories of the self. It is the first output from my Leverhulme Trust funded research on intellectual property law, photography and biography. Included are ten previously unpublished early daguerreotypes. A work of cutting-edge cultural history which, through studying the case law of early photography legal depositions and affidavits, held at the National Record Office, Kew, this essay reflects on the way that authorship and careers were shaped and constrained. In addition to lectures in British universities, I have presented preliminary versions of this paper at Yale University and University of California, Berkeley and as key-note addresses at the University of Bergen and the University of Leeds.
While there has been much recent discussion of copyright, patents remain under researched as cultural phenomena. However, I argue that patent law played a central role in defining modern conceptions of art and photography by joining intellectual property with image production, to create a distinctly modern sphere of authorship. My essay focuses on the prosecutions, conducted during the 1840s and 1850s, by the British patent holder for the daguerreotype - the merchant Richard Beard. Investigating Beard’s business model for his three London studios and subsidiary licensed studios, I ask what authorship meant in the case of a mass-image producing enterprise, which employed dozens of operators as well as numerous subsidiary photographers all trading under license to Beard. My essay brings a fresh historical perspective to debates on the nature of authorship, considering the special characteristics of collective making and the mass production of portraits.

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