Between 1818 and 1824, radical printer and publisher Richard Carlile made a determined effort to disseminate copies of Thomas Paine's banned text The Age of Reason in England. Despite strict censorship laws and harsh legal penalties used to curtail previous publishers of this title, Carlile employed a number of creative techniques that kept Paine's deistic writings in print and in circulation during the Regency period. These included republishing public domain court documents when he was charged with seditious libel and reading The Age of Reason in its entirety into testimony during his trial, making it part of the public record. Copied from trial transcripts and reprinted in cheap pamphlet form, Carlile's editions of The Age of Reason would sell an impressive 20,000 copies in these formats. He managed to provide wide-scale access to a work that had been suppressed by the British government since its original publication in 1794. My paper argues that Carlile's approach to subverting Regency-era censorship of The Age of Reason provided an early test for the recognition of the public domain in British law. Instead of continuing to suppress this text, the British government acknowledged the public's right to read the text in this format, allowing Carlile to use his own court documents to continue its publication. This event paved the way for recognition of the public ownership of texts and access to public records in nineteenth-century British print culture.



College and Department

Humanities; English



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public domain, print culture, publishing, romanticism, radicalism, Thomas Paine, deism, public documents, public records, copyright, intellectual property, The Age of Reason