The mid-19th century saw the difficult and controversial invention of the international intellectual property law and the creation of the Bureau international de la propriété intellectuelle (or Bureau de Berne). Unlike what the conventional story says, the establishment of institutions, national laws and international agreements concerning the circulation of texts and the system of (inter)national copyright was not at all an inherent development of the Atlantic industrial society, nor the result of the ‘cosmopolitan spirit’ of a transnational sphere; on the contrary, it was the result of a three-decades-long fight (from the International Congress of Brussels in 1858 to the Bureau de Berne in 1886). Italian scholars, academics, publishers, lawyers, diplomats and writers alike took part in this complex campaign, as marginal players in the beginning, but by gradually conquering more significant posts in the debates and negotiations. By studying this slow emergence of a European literary arena, my research shows how it deployed in complete synchronicity and tight articulation with the invention of an Italian book market and national literature. The political economy of literature, seen through the lenses of international copyright, leads to the conclusion that the Italian national culture system was a transnational product of the ‘First Globalization’.