« PreviousContinue »
by which the exclusive right to their respective writings may be secured to them in the United States of America.
“ That, for want of such law, deep and extensive injuries have of late been inflicted on their reputation and property, and on the interests of literature and science, which ought to constitute a bond of union and friendship between the United States and Great Britain.
" That from the circumstance of the English language being common to both nations, the works of British authors are extensively read throughout the United States of America, while the profits arising from the sale of their works may be wholly appropriated by American booksellers, not only without the consent of the authors, but even contrary to their express desire-a grievance under which they have, at present, no redress.
“That the works thus appropriated by American booksellers are liable to be mutilated and altered at the pleasure of the said booksellers, or any other persons who may have an interest in reducing the price of the works, or in conciliating the supposed principles or prejudices of purchasers, in the respective sections of your Union; and that the names of the authors being retained, they may be made responsible for works which they no longer recognize as their own.
" That such mutilation and alteration, with the retention of the authors' names, have been of late actually perpetrated by citizens of the United States, under which grievance such authors have, at present, no redress.
“That certain authors of Great Britain have recently made an effort in defence of their literary reputation and property, by declaring a respectable firm of publishers in New York to be the sole authorized possessors and issuers of the said works, and by publishing in certain American newspapers their authority to this effect.
“That the object of the said authors has been defeated by the act of certain persons, citizens of the United States, who have unjustly published, for their own advantage, the works sought to be thus protected; under which grievance the said authors have, at present, no redress.
“ That American authors are injured by the non-existence of the desired law : while American publishers can provide themselves with works for publication, by unjust appropriation instead of by equitable purchase, they are under no inducement to afford to American authors a fair remuneration for their labours; under which grievance, American authors have no redress, but in sending over their works to England to be published—an expedient which has become an established practice with some of whom their country has reason to be proud.
“That the American public is injured by the non-existence of the desired law. The American public suffers not only from the discouragement afforded to native authors, as above stated, but from the uncertainty now existing as to whether the books presented to them as the works of British authors, are the actual and complete productions of the writers whose names they bear.
“That, in proof of the evil complained of, the case of Walter Scott might be referred to, as stated by an esteemed citizen of the United States; that while the works of this author, dear alike to your country and to ours, were read from Maine to Georgia, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, he received no remuneration from the American public for his labours ; that equitable remuneration might have saved his life, and would, at least, have relieved its closing years from the burden of debts and destructive toils.
“That deeply impressed with the conviction that the only firm ground of friendship between nations is a strict regard to simple justice, the undersigned earnestly request the Senate of the United States, in Congress assembled, speedily to use, in behalf of the authors of Great Britain, their power of securing to the authors the exclusive right to their respective writings.
Emeline C. E. Stuart Wortley, The Rev. G. Skinner, Cam-
bridge University, Eng.
No right of property is now more universally admitted as reasonable and just, than that of literary property. There is no other species which is so peculiarly a man's own, by creation, as this. The visible and tangible things of earth, already in existence, he merely appropriates to his use; though when so appropriated rightfully, they are very properly secured to him against the encroachments of others. But the ideas, most aptly termed children, of his brain are additions to the stock of thought-new existences; which their master and originator has a right, by the laws of nature, to consider and claim as his own, in every way in which dominion can be exercised over them. They are not, necessarily, merely because promulgated, therefore given to the public 'and made common property, unless the originator so chooses to dedicate them. He may do as he pleases with his own; but, against his consent, they should not be appropriated by another to his use. Such conduct is a robbery of thought-a pilfering of the wealth of mind, idea-stealing-a piracy of property which has as clear and definite a value in money, as any other kind of property; infinitely more valuable than much which is protected under the extremest penalties.
There was a time when positions of the above character were laughed at, or could not be understood. Happily, now, the seemingly poor author, who vindicates the rights of nature in his own person, addresses those who recognize his claim; he may be a man of great possessions, though paternal wealth never descended to him, and nature have denied him the physical strength to lay up treasures by active exertions. His dominion and his energies are exerted over the spiritual part of creation, and the justice of modern times allows both the reality and the legality of the sovereignty.
We do not propose, however, to discuss, at present, the " general question of the extent of the title of an author to his works, without regard to the language in which they are written. Our space forbids this; and we touch, therefore, merely upon the question as connected with British authors. All who speak, and use in composition, the same language, should be considered, with reference to the law of copyright, as one nation. In this matter, we are one with the British people. The distance of three thousand miles, is nothing but the delay of a few weeks in the time of publication.
The leading argument, then, in favour of securing to British VOL. XXI.-NO. 41.
authors an interest in their works when published in this country, is that derived from consideration of respect to genius and learning, and regard for the rights of literary property. Surely it little becomes a great nation to use and enjoy the productions of foreign talent, without any equivalent, availing herself of the accidental and peculiar circumstance of a community of language. It has become a familiar mode to speak of literary men as constituting the republic of letters. The phrase is a compliment to the form of government which we have adopted, and implies the dignified equality of all the members of the great commonwealth. Protection to literary property throughout every portion of such a community, would seem to be an essential part of its constitution. Men of letters themselves have, of course, no power of enforcing their rights or wishes, independently of the governments of the world, their own included; and magnanimity and courtesy, on the part of each nation, should induce the extension of efficient protection to a confederacy with every claim to regard, and essential to the renown of the age, though powerless in itself. The nation which should be foremost in this honourable work would secure undying renown. Athens was wise in her generation. Her fame is brighter than that of her sterner rival.
Right glad are we that the constitution of our country recognizes this great duty and noble ambition of nations. It gives congress power “to promote the progress of science and of useful arts ;" and it designates the mode by which this may be best attained, "by securing to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” The phraseology of this great instrument asserts the natural right of the class in question to the exclusive ownership of their productions, and invites congress to secure the enjoyment of it to them. It also looks upon authors, in general, as constituting the great community we have spoken of, because it intimates no partial benefits to such as are natives or residents of America. There is no exclusion, either in its terms or spirit, of foreign * writers or inventors. They are benefactors of the whole
human race, and the object of the power given by the constitution was to promote the progress of those great interests which, belong to mankind at large. The great men who founded our government looked forward to America as the seat of the arts, and the home of science, liberalized and enlightened by the labours and works of the bright spirits of the world.
The only plausible objection to acquiescence in the requests of the foreign authors in question, is the probable injury to the people of our country, from the exclusion of the valuable literature of the British isles, which is now disseminated at a trifling cost throughout our land. We think that the force of any
objection upon this head is much lessened by the fact that the proposed law does not in the slightest degree interfere with the free republication of all the works which have been hitherto issued from the press. The goodly heritage of foreign genius, which has descended to our days, is left untouched and undiminished. That mass of mind, monumental and eternal, which makes us glory in our descent from English ancestors, and which we would not exchange for the productions of any other clime, is ours by gift. It has been cast before us with prodigal generosity, and we should receive the boon with thankful gratitude, nor permit the gratuitous enjoyment of so much, in time past, to render us too grasping after other's wealth in future. It is only upon the appropriation of contemporary literature that any check is proposed. It is but for living authors that justice is asked.
Admitting, however, that some diminution in the profits of American publishers, and in the conveniences and enjoyment of American readers, would be the consequence, could any one hesitate in assenting to the position that it is not for us to enrich ourselves at the expense of strangers ? Better never to pluck the fruit than to take it clandestinely or unjustly. Or, what applies more closely to the proposed alteration, better to pay its value than deprive the author of the reward of his labour. It is not a question between total deprivation of this literature, and obtaining it gratuitously; but between the latter alternative and paying for it what it is reasonably worth. Authors are too anxious for fame, and too eager to have their works widely disseminated, to prevent both by affixing to them a price which would deter a publisher from undertaking to issue them from the press. Books which were worth the purchase would readily, on the other hand, secure publishers in this country, whose interests in their turn would induce them to place the work at a sum that might easily command a sale. Really worthless productions would be, undoubtedly, excluded from general circulation ; and it would be for the best interests of morals and literature in this country, if such were the case. · This would certainly happen, unless a limitation of time, as proposed by the senate committee, during which the book should be issued here, were adopted. If, however, no bookseller could be found will-ing to pay any thing for a work, that very circumstance might deter any from publishing it, after the limited period, as an experiment, and might be considered as a very likely test of the real value of the book.
Unless, then, it be contended that the dissemination of English literature is to be secured in this country, without any regard to the rights of others, it is impossible to avoid being sensible of the paramount claims of the authors themselves.