Victorian Popular Fictions 3.2 3 Easley

Frederick Douglass, Copyright, and the British Press, 1845-47

 Alexis Easley

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In 1845, Frederick Douglass established his copyright to the Narrative of the Life in the United States in order to receive just remuneration for his work. Yet Douglass also relied on a lack of international copyright law to disseminate his abolitionist message to a transatlantic audience. While Douglass made use of both copyright-protected and free-circulating forms of publication to reach a broad audience, he could not always control how his work and image would be reprinted and adapted in the transatlantic press. During his 1845-7 lecture tour, British periodicals and newspapers creatively recontextualised, abridged, and plagiarised his Narrative in articles and reviews. These forms of reuse were conventional in the publishing world of the 1840s, yet when viewed from a modern perspective, they seem to echo the exploitative practices associated with the American slave system.


Frederick Douglass; Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; copyright; reviews; reprinting; slave narratives; London Journal; Illustrated London News; People’s Journal; Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal

Date of Acceptance: 8 December 2021

Date of Publication: 17 December 2021

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Easley, Alexis. 2021. “Frederick Douglass, Copyright, and the British Press, 1845-47.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 3.2: 45-62. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.