PAPERS AND PAMPHLETS ON THE COPYRIGHT QUESTION.
THE proposal of Mr. Sergeant TALFOURD to extend the term in copyrights for sixty years from the death of the author' has become a literary question of the day. The learned projector and his supporters look at little beyoad the sentiment of the question ; whilst his opponents hitherto have treated it as a matter of mere law, or claptrap of another kind ; or else (and by no means improperly, in their position) as a matter affecting their commer- cial interests. It may be worth while to examine the question with a more searching and unprejudiced eye than has been be- stowed upon it in the present controversy; so that, if we do not determine this difficult question, we may show at least that it has difficulties, and whereabout they lie. The two pamphlets before us, either expressly or by implication, assume that the property of copyright is not in the author, or his manuscript, but in the printed work ; and therefore, say they, the profit of the copyright, however long it endures, should belong to the publisher. Such quibbling is unworthy of any serious notice. But on the other hand, the metaphy,ical right of the author is not so clear as the advocates of the Bill assume. We do not go with the subtle argument, that as the vAtie of a copyright is realized by the power of the art of printin, the right of the author is therefore nil; becane it may be said that almost all species of property fall under this category. The want of mate- rials to write upon, and the heavy expense of copying, accompa- nying and causing a great paucity of readers, rendered what we call copyright inappreciable in ancient times so that there was no law, for there was no property with which the law could deal. But the same takes place in other articles: the fish of the river, the timber of the forest, nay land itself has no value without a certain amount of population ; and until this period is reached, they are left pretty much as copyright was of old : but as soon as a value in them is created by the wants of an advancing society, then the law interferes for their protection. But still the analogy is not exact. Land appropriated, or goods in possession, can only be gotten from the owner by force: an author, once putting forth his book, can only by the power of the law prevent its appropria- tion or republication by others. Against single attacks, the owner of tangible property can as it were defend himself; and if they were made in combination, the owners of property would combine against those who had none, (which, to speak truth, seems to have been the original of human haw;) so that society would be in a state of warfare. No individual means, no social combination, san avail against literary piracy or plagiarism. The possessor of tan- gible property asks only to be let alone. The author, or the • The Bill proposes to give a copyright in all future works for the author's life, and for sixty years after his death. In the case of existing copyrights, the present interests of assignees are to be preserved ; but on their expiration, the copyright reverts to the author for his own life, and for sixty years after. If he die before the expiration of the copyright, the sixty years are to be reckoned from the time of his death. By the Bill, all the present monopolies and privileges of the Universities and Colleges are preserved ; and the mode is prescribed in which entries are to he made at Stationers' 11311, to substantiate the original ownership of the copy right, or any subsequent assignment. The suppression of a work is attempted to be guarded against, by allowing its republication if it remain out of print for five years, on the expiration of twenty- eight years after the author's death. But this can only be accomplished, after the lapse of one or two years, by application to the Chancellor, anti some other judges; who may grant, or refuse, at their pleasure. It should be mentioned also, that existing stereotype editions may be reprinted, after the copyright of the assignee has expired ;. which, in fact, is giving almost a perpetuity, for who Can tell the end of a stereotype, with timely teneWals? Such is the substance of the Literary Bill. In its composition it is as wordy and cumbrous as Acts of Par- liament in general, and more so than, sonic. This may admit of question in classical times. We know that booksellers formed a separate trading elms at Rome; and there is something like • biblio- grapher's anxiety for an immaculate edition traceable in QUISCTILIAX'11 introductory epistle. mechanical inventor, asks a boon of society, when he seeks by legal power to prevent individuals doing what it was perfectly competent for them to do by their own natural means. ,Hence the right of the community to impose conditions upon the inventor, in return for the artificial property which its act creates, or to which at least it gives effect. And public expediency, without injustice to the individual, seems the question to be determined. As regards the public, the first point is, that copyright is a mo- nopoly ; and all experience shows that monopolists are self-inte- rested and exclusive, as well as narrow, and slothful to such a degree that they even act against their own pecuniary advantage. The effects, too, of this monopoly, so far as it works, is to militate against that very human improvement or human enjoyment which it is the avowed design of all authors and inventors to advance. The extent to which a perpetual copyright, or one for a very long time, would operate, cannot be told ; for we have little experience on the subject,—indeed, our experience in the matter, such as it is, is limited to about a century and a quarter, (171(I-1837). From such experience it appears, that new works have mostly been first published at the highest price they would bear, and gradually reduced in cost as the wealthiest class of readers were 'supplied. The inquirer, who patiently examines our bibliographic histoly for the period just mentioned, will also find, that as soon, appa- rently, as a class of readers exists, editions are placed within their means ; but that this was not done systematically, if at all, dining the first part of the last century, when copyrights were virtually a monopoly, and that it never has been done with works in copyright. He will also find, that the great cheap reprints of the present day, Scott and Byron, were in the first instance brought about by peculiar circumstances, and in the rase of Brews stimulated by foreign competition. In neither of these instances, nor in any of their imitations, are the works so cheap no those unprotected by copyright ; the difference being, perhaps, from 50 per cent. to 30 or 20 per cent. On the other hand, it is possible that the ex- amples of these, and similar speculations, may induce publishers to aim at " large returns and small profits : " but this is a contin- gency dependent upon individual perception, enterprise, and othar qualities. The leading instance upon the subject, however, rather shakes this expectation. To " encourage learning," the Univer- sities have a perpetual copyright in any work they may obtain. The University of Oxford have that of Clarend9n. The first thing that learned body did, by the by, was to garble the manu- script, and, we believe, to delay the publication. But this is beside the question of cost ; the facts of which are as follows.
" Clarendon's History is published in eight volumes Sim., and sells at 31. tOs. in boards; and to the circumstance which we ate now to relate, the public are perhaps indebted fur being able to obtain it even at that high price. In ISIS, Mr. Joseph Ilarding, bookseller and publiS114.1*, was CX:1111ilied before the Committee of the I louse of COMI11011i on the subject 4 copyright ; when it was asked, • What is tlo. riee of 1 ool Clareselon%, Ili tdr■• or the Rebellion, liking still, you tliA the hook belongs In the 13 ni‘tosity gg (is iv!, atindt he Oiled lis :ley other thau the U. niver:it y IrlOter —The Loodon pi ice it theonly edition a hich the pess has printed ler the nistket is, tor s de). amounts to f. small. and 151. 15s. large. There ig not a tilliaii ellitit)11 tie 1,01 k to hell, tleo/, The price of zlir octavo edition. iitiiotuig of t us dive v, lenies, piloted ou the Contioen2, sells abroad for 31.; hones, or about I/. los.'.-S.e iii,. Esoletiee. p. 31.
" Now, after reading this answer of Mr. Harding, can any one admit that it is' for the advancement of learning ' that such a state of things should be per- mitted to continue? In the first place, we are told, that the only edition that was to be had costs 71. 17s. Gel. ; and that an edition which was printed abroad, in twelve volumes 8vo.„ not for the advancement of learning, but as a mercan- tile speculation for individual profit, was to be bought for 11. 10s., which is less than one-filth of the price of the edition which was published by a public body, which is splendidly endowed for the sole purpose of advancing learning. Surely such absurdity will not be permitted to continue fur many years. We are also told, that 'a small edition was greatly demanded: ' but have the public got it? No, they have not. We may suppose that the Iii.iversity came to the following decision, on observing that the above evidence was published : That ' we will not print this work in any other way than that it shall be considered as a gentleman's book ; it must be in eight volumes octavo; but as we have been exposed in this manner, we must cons( ;it to give the public a better book for seventy shillings than that which we have forinerly charged one hundred and fifty-seven shillings and sixpence.' But even if the University has reduced the price of the work to 31. 10a., what concession or what sacrifice is that on the part of the University for the advancement of literature, when we are told that an edition, printed in twelve volumes octavo, for private profit, is sold at only thirty shillings ? Surely the University can have very little desire that the public shall have at least Clarendon', Rebellion at such a price as will enable it to circulate extensively ; which, we presume, was the original object for which it was given."— Observations on the Law of Copyright.
Thus, so far as experience and d priori reasoning go, the con- clusion is, that all copyright enhances very considerably the price of books in the hands of those whose only object is to get the largest amount of profit : in the hands of a rich and capricious descendant of an author, the circulation of a book might be stopped by the price put upon it : and, but for a clumsy and perhaps an inoperative contrivance in Mr. TALFOURD'S Bill, a work distasteful to a Government or to powerful bodies might be purchased and suppressed. This, of course, is an extreme case ; but the weak- ness of a rule is tested by straining it. Thus much for public expediency. As regards authors, their interests may be put aside altogether. So far as the law can, pro- tect the actual producer, he has ample protection already, in a copyright of twenty-eight years, and if he survives that time for the duration of his life. It may be a short cut to popularity for flashy orators and essayists to conjure up a long list of the cala- mities of authors; but not one of those calamities was ever caused by any limitation in his copyright. They arose from the character and position of the man, or the circumstances of his age. So far as the legislation of England has touched the subject. it has looked directly to authors alone; having given a term
certain for the "encouragement of trade. Their descendants is another and a nice subject-for it approaches legislation for indi- viduals. The contemporary authors, whose books will possess any value after the present term of copyright expires, are so few that the fingers will pretty well suffice to reckon them. At the same time, the descendant of a writer ought not to be the only one who is not to benefit by the labours of his ancestors, (albeit that ances- tor laboured for fame, which posterity pays him,) unless some strong principle of public good should interfere. This benefit, however, will scarcely be attained by Mr. TALFOURD'S Bill. To the descendants of the majority of authors it gives nothing : their works die long before themselves. To a few it may furnish some benefit ; but it breaks down totally in the case of those men upon whom Mr. TALFOURD bases his own. What is sixty
years to the " sons of memory, great heirs of fame "- to the Du tnajorum gentiumP MILTON'S descendant, whom Mr. TAL- NouRn talked about so finely, would have received no benefit from his bill. A shorter term from the author's death would amply suffice for general cases; nothing but centuries, or a per-
petuity, can reach the others. In all cases, the copyright should lapse when there is no descendant in the direct or at least in a very close collateral line.
We have said nothing of works of science or mechanical inven- tions; because there is no analogy in their cases. In books,
copyright is in the mode: turn Paradise Lost into prose, or
rhyme, and its value is gone, or (though not very likely) a new one is imparted. But the pith of new discoveries in science is usually so small, that a skilful reproducer can grasp and use it in despite of law ; and as regards mechanical inventions, a long or perpetual patent would destroy all improvement upon the first
Improvement, (for no invention is wholly new,) and bring me- chanics to a dead stop. No ingenious gentlemen, however, has yet proposed to improve upon Othello or King Lear. Notwithstanding the interest which the subject is exciting, we cannot say that it has been very ably handled. Mr. Munig's pamphlet is a disingenuous, forced, and dull affair, in spite of con- stant eftbrts to be smart and lively. Observations on the Law of Copyright is more sensible and informing, taking a more prac- tical range, and dealing with more points ; but it also is some-
what forced in its arguments, and not without its quibbles : both have the air of advocates pleading for a side, instead of argu- ing for justice. The Petition of the Booksellers and Publishers is what it professes to be-a manifesto emanating from a commer-
cial body, naturally and properly looking after its own interests. They condemn the Bill in Solo; but throw their strength chiefly
upon that part which, after providing for the inviolability of all assignments of ccpyright made under the existing law, conveys their " remainder " (to use a conveyancing term) to the author's
representatives; which they seem to consider a breach of faith. In what way, we scarcely perceive: they are secured all that they bargained tbr at the time they made their bargain. In the case of school-hooks, and others of a similar kind, they indeed put a case of improvement at their expense : but the improve- rnents would be theirs, and not the author's, who might, when the work reverted to him, publish his original but nothing more.