IS COPYRIGHT PERPETUAL? AN EXAMINATION OF THE
ORIGIN AND NATURE OF LITERARY PROPERTY.
WHEN Anne was Queen of England, Parliament passed an act
“for the encouragement of learned men to compose and write
useful books." It declared that an author should have the sole
right of publishing his intellectual productions for a specified
period, and gave a remedy against piracy. For generations
before this statute, which became a law in 1710, authors had
enjoyed a perpetual property in their works under the common
law ; for half a century after, the perpetuity of this property was
undisturbed. In 1769 it received the solemn sanction of the
Court of King's Bench. Five years later the judgment of this
court was swept away by the House of Lords, who proclaimed, on
an equal division of the judges, that the perpetuity of literary prop-
erty had been destroyed by the statute of Anne, and that authors
had no rights in their published works except under that act.3 This
has been the law of England for a century. It was copied by
the United States in 1790, and has since ruled Congress and the
courts. It has been denounced as bad law by the ablest jurists
of England and America ; it has been defended by others. The
former maintain that copyright is a natural right, guaranteed by
the common law, and not abridged by statute ; the latter argue
that it is an artificial right, created and wholly regulated by the
The conflict of opinion concerning the perpetuity of copyright presents four theories :
First. That intellectual productions constitute a species of property founded in natural law, recognized by the common law, and neither lost by publication nor taken away by statute.
Second. That an author has by common law the exclusive right to control his works before but not after publication.
Third. That this right is not lost by publication, but is destroyed by the copyright statutes.