It is one of the orthodoxies of modern copyright law that the enjoyment and the exercise of the rights granted “shall not be subject to any formality” (Berne Convention 1886, Berlin revision 1908, Art.4), such as a registration requirement. In this article, we trace the origins of this provision to a conceptual shift that took place during the early 1800s. Specific regulations of the book trade were superseded by the protection of all instantiations (such as performances, translations and adaptations) of abstract authored work. For two seminal copyright acts of the period, the Prussian Act of 1837 and the UK Act of 1842, we show there was considerable concern about the economic implications of this new justificatory paradigm, reflected in a period of experimentation with sophisticated registration requirements. We indicate market responses to these requirements and plea for a reconsideration of “formalities” as redressing justificatory problems of copyright in the digital environment. \u
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