Legal Considerations

Type on Imposing Surface (from ECP)
Type on Impos­ing Sur­face (from ECP)

Note: this is an his­tor­ic­al art­icle look­ing at the leg­al pos­i­tion in the mid 1960s, and not an author­it­at­ive state­ment of the print­er and the law to-day.

Conditions of Contract

Most print­ers used a stand­ard form of con­di­tions of con­tract based on the BFMPs sug­ges­tion.  These con­di­tions allowed print­ers some degree of flex­ib­il­ity in what was delivered (allow­ing for 10% vari­ance in quant­ity in col­our work!), what happened to mater­i­als sup­plied by the cus­tom­er and who held liab­il­ity for what was prin­ted.

The stand­ard con­di­tions included accom­mod­a­tions for the less obvi­ous threats of flood, drought, fire and war.


Although now super­seded the by Copy­rights, Designs and Pat­ents Act of 1988, the Copy­right Act of 1956 tidied up the legis­la­tion around this notori­ously tricky area.  Copy­right is the right to repro­duce or modi­fy another’s work.  The Act made pro­vi­sion for exactly the same res­ult being sep­ar­ately and equally copy­right provided that they were each cre­ated using an inde­pend­ent pro­cess.  Copy­right was not a right to a ‘nov­elty of idea’.

No indic­a­tion was needed to show that some­thing was copy­right, although the © sym­bol could be used to pro­tect works inter­na­tion­ally.  Spe­cial rules gov­erned the peri­od of copy­right and also who had the copy­right if a writer was employed by a news­pa­per or oth­er pub­lish­er.  Copy­right could only be assigned between people through writ­ten agree­ment.

The Act also man­dated that the pub­lish­er (and not the print­er) was respons­ible for deliv­er­ing a copy of any of their newly prin­ted books to the Brit­ish Museum; and also five oth­er lib­rar­ies if they reques­ted a copy.


I can’t find any defin­it­ive rul­ing on today’s pos­i­tion on a Printer’s Imprint — the tech­nic­al name for the addi­tion of the printer’s name and usu­al place of busi­ness or abode to his prin­ted work.  In the 1960s it was a dif­fer­ent mat­ter because the Printer’s Imprint Act 1961 had amended the News­pa­pers, Print­ers and Read­ing Rooms Repeal Act 1869.  Those reg­u­la­tions were com­plex:

  • The imprint — the printer’s name, and his usu­al place of busi­ness or abode — must be added to any art­icle to be pub­lished or dis­persed
  • The imprint must be on the same side as the prin­ted mat­ter for a single-sided job, and on the first or last page of a mul­tiple paged work
  • Curi­ously (and sug­ges­ted to be an error in draft­ing the law) this law did not apply to North­ern Ire­land
  • Some items were exempt from need­ing an imprint: Bank of Eng­land notes; bills of exchange, load­ing or bonds; insur­ance policies; receipts; court pro­ceed­ings; par­lia­ment­ary papers and also works by pub­lic officers in the exe­cu­tion of their duties
  • Anoth­er exemp­tion allowed for art­icles with names, addresses, busi­ness or pro­fes­sions not to have an imprint.  This meant that let­ter- and bill-head­ings did not need an imprint.  Neither did cata­logues or price lists
  • Greet­ings cards were also exemp­ted as they were simply a con­ven­tion­al mes­sage, rather than designed to con­vey a par­tic­u­lar mes­sage

Pen­al­ties for not adding the imprint were severe, with a fine of up to £5 per copy, rather than per work.  The courts had also ruled that work that required an imprint, but did not carry one, could not be charged for.  So a print­er might not be able to recov­er the cost of the work.

Election Printing

Spe­cial rules sur­roun­ded this area, too.  The Cor­rupt and Illeg­al Prac­tices Act 1883 was amended by the Rep­res­ent­a­tion of the People Act 1948 to include everything to pro­mote an elec­tion can­did­ate.  These Acts required the name and address of both the print­er and pub­lish­er to be included on every work.  A fine of £100 was avail­able to pro­sec­utors for fail­ing in this duty.

File Copies

The News­pa­pers, etc. Act of 1869 required a copy of each news­pa­per prin­ted, along with the cus­tom­ers details, to be held for six months.

Country of Origin

Each coun­try had dif­fer­ent rules for how things prin­ted in Bri­tain should be marked when sold or expor­ted abroad.  Examples include:

  • France asked that magazines prin­ted here but pub­lished in France needed to include the words Imprime en Grande-Bretagne in heavy type on the first page at least 4mm high
  • Den­mark deman­ded that the words Trykt i [name and loc­a­tion of print­er] be added
  • Canada allowed any­thing under 1″ in dia­met­er to go without a mark but any­thing lar­ger had to be marked with name, city and coun­try

Oth­er Laws nat­ur­ally applied that had a wider reach, like libel or obscene pub­lic­a­tions.