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Although now superseded the by Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act of 1988, the Copyright Act of 1956 tidied up the legislation around this notoriously tricky area.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 (c) 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.