Page images

one of the essential means of preventing the publisher who may secure the copyright of a new work, and has therefore the monopoly of it, from charging too high a price for it. We think, indeed, that his best interests would be promoted by a different course, and that it is always the wisest plan for every bookseller to put his stock at the lowest rates consistent with a reasonable remuneration for his trouble, and a moderate profit. Still it might be better to guard against the temptation by such an abolition of the duty as we have suggested.

The actual revenue derived from this source must be comparatively trifling,-too small to be an object, merely under this aspect, with a great nation. The inconvenience and positive injury to men of science and letters, on the contrary, are very great. Their interests and comfort, we have before said, deserve encouragement at the hand of government. What practical benefit is derived then from the tax to any branch of business or any class of our fellow citizens? We can see none. Has it operated to improve the arts of printing and book-binding? What is the actual experience upon this point? In the affirmative? We express our opinion here also the other way. That there has been an improvement in these respects, we acknowledge, and have been glad and proud to see, but it is not owing to the mere duty upon foreign books; it has arisen from the natural progress of improvement which takes place in every art from lapse of time, from experience, and consequent growing skill, from the increasing taste for the refinements of art, which we have said in regard to books will be enhanced by the dissemination of superior foreign specimens among us. Let the taste of the people be improved and strengthened, and there will be ample encouragement extended to this and every other branch of the fine arts.

It needed scarcely the emphatic language of the British memorialists to convince any one who would take the trouble to reflect upon the subject, of the deep and extensive injuries sustained by them in the unjust spoliation of their property. Let but a moment's thought be expended upon the vast number of readers of works of fiction and of the lighter departments of literature in this immensely extended country, and he will be at once sensible of the magnitude of the market to which the complainants were clearly entitled and of which they have been deprived. And for whose advantage? For that of a few publishers, who had no more right to appropriate the works of Walter Scott, for example, to their own use, than they had to do so with his estate at Abbotsford, which finally fell under the hammer for want of those means that would have been amply supplied had the large receipts, arising from the sale of his works in America, found their way into his pockets instead VOL. XXI.-No. 41.


of those not entitled to receive them. While the whole of our extensive country was perusing with delight those pages which have solaced many a weary hour, and have in turn brightened the face with smiles or bedewed it in tears at the will of the writer, he himself was struggling under a load of debts and sinking under a depression of spirits, which would have been alike removed by the grant of that justice which, we trust, though late indeed, will be accorded by our legislators to those who are happily capable of enjoying the boon.

We have briefly and hastily thrown together the views which presented themselves to our minds upon this topic; one of interest, not only to authors and those connected with the American press, but to every citizen zealous for the honour of his country. We are anxious to let our brethren across the water see that their claims are not disregarded here; and that the profession, at least, in this country is willing to do them justice. We would advocate with all our humble ability any proposition to draw closer the bonds of amity and union between the United States and England, and particularly between the members of a literary community. In regard to the fate of the proposed bill at this present session of congress we were not disappointed, because it was introduced at a very late period of the session, and when there was a vast amount of very important business pressing upon the attention of that body, which required instant action. It was to be expected also that time would be required to consider the effect of the measure upon interests which, it is supposed by some, might be injuriously operated upon, and to correct any prejudices that may have been hastily assumed in regard to it. One chief object has been gained in bringing the matter in a tangible shape before congress, and we trust that it will receive an early and favourable reception hereafter.

The report of the committee we shall also extract at length. We wish to preserve all that has passed upon so interesting a topic, and shall therefore offer no apology for transcribing it. The views and sentiments of the committee are more commendable than the literary execution of the report, which is not so happy as most of the efforts of the distinguished chairman. If it answer the purpose, however, of inducing congress to grant the prayer of the memorialists it will have done its work to our entire satisfaction.

The committee say :

"That, by the act of congress of 1831, being the law now in force regulating copyrights, the benefits of the act are restricted to citizens or residents of the United States; so that no foreigner, residing abroad, can secure a copyright in the United States for any work of which he is the author, however important or valuable it may be. The object of the address and petition,

therefore, is to remove this restriction as to British authors, and to allow them to enjoy the benefits of our law.

"That authors and inventors have, according to the practice among civilized nations, a property in the respective productions of their genius, is incontestable; and that this property should be protected as effectually as any other property is, by law, follows as a legitimate consequence. Authors and inventors are among the greatest benefactors of mankind. They are often dependent, exclusively, upon their own mental labours for the means of subsistence; and are frequently, from the nature of their pursuits, or the constitution of their minds, incapable of applying that provident care to worldly affairs which other classes of society are in the habit of bestowing. These considerations give additional strength to their just title to the protection of the law.

"It being established that literary property is entitled to legal protection, it results that this protection ought to be afforded wherever the property is situated. A British merchant brings or transmits to the United States a bale of merchandise, and the moment it comes within the jurisdiction of our laws, they throw around it effectual security. But if the work of a British author is brought to the United States, it may be appropriated by any resident here, and republished, without any compensation whatever being made to the author. We should be all shocked if the law tolerated the least invasion of the rights of property, in the case of the merchandise, whilst those which justly belong to the works of authors are exposed to daily violation, without the possibility of their invoking the aid of the laws.

"The committee think that this distinction in the condition of the two descriptions of property is not just, and that it ought to be remedied by some safe and cautious amendment of the law. Already the principle has been adopted in the patent laws, of extending their benefits to foreign inventions or improvements. It is but carrying out the same principle to extend the benefit of our copyright laws to foreign authors. In relation to the subjects of Great Britain and France, it will be but a measure of reciprocal justice; for, in both of those countries, our authors may enjoy that protection of their laws for literary property which is denied to their subjects here.

"Entertaining these views, the committee have been anxious to devise some measures which, without too great a disturbance of interests, or affecting too seriously arrangements which have grown out of the present state of things, may, without hazard, be subjected to the test of practical experience. Of the works which have heretofore issued from the foreign press, many have already been republished in the United States, others are in progress of republication, and some probably have been stereo

typed. A copyright law which should embrace any of these works, might injuriously affect American publishers, and lead to collision and ligitation between them and foreign authors.

"Acting, then, on the principles of prudence and caution, by which the committee have thought it best to be governed, the bill which the committee intend proposing provides that the protection which it secures shall extend to those works only which shall be published after its passage. It is also limited to the subjects of Great Britain and France; among other reasons, because the committee have information that, by their laws, American authors can obtain protection for their productions; but they have no information that such is the case in any other foreign country. But, in principle, the committee perceive no objection to considering the republic of letters as one great community, and adopting a system of protection for literary property which should be common to all parts of it. The bill also provides that an American edition of the foreign work for which an American copyright has been obtained, shall be published within reasonable time.

"If the bill should pass, its operation in this country would be to leave the public, without any charge for copyright, in the undisturbed possession of all scientific and literary works published prior to its passage-in other words, the great mass of the science and literature of the world; and to entitle the British or French author only to the benefit of copyright in respect to works which may be published subsequent to the passage of

the law.

"The committee cannot anticipate any reasonable or just objection to a measure thus guarded and restricted. It may, indeed, be contended, and it is possible, that the new work, when charged with the expense incident to the copyright, may come into the hands of the purchaser at a small advance beyond what would be its price, if there were no such charge; but this is by no means certain. It is, on the contrary, highly probable that, when the American publisher has adequate time to issue carefully an edition of the foreign work, without incurring the extraordinary expense which he now has to sustain to make a hurried publication of it, and to guard himself against dangerous competition, he will be able to bring it into the market as cheaply as if the bill were not to pass. But, if that should not prove to be the case, and if the American reader should have to pay a few cents to compensate the author for composing a work by which he is instructed and profited, would it not be just in itself? Has any reader a right to the use, without remuneration, of intellectual productions which have not yet been brought into existence, but lie buried in the mind of genius? The committee think not; and they believe that no American citizen would not

feel it quite as unjust, in reference to future publications, to appropriate to himself their use, without any consideration being paid to their foreign proprietors, as he would to take the bale of merchandise, in the case stated, without paying for it; and he would the more readily make this trifling contribution, when it secured to him, instead of the imperfect and slovenly book now often issued, a neat and valuable work, worthy of preservation,

"With respect to the constitutional power to pass the proposed bill, the committee entertain no doubt, and congress as before. stated, has acted on it. The constitution authorises congress "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing, for limited times, to authors and inventors, the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." There is no limitation of the power to natives or residents of this country. Such a limitation would have been hostile to the object of the power granted. That object was to PROMOTE the progress of science and useful arts. They belong to no particular country, but to mankind generally. And it cannot be doubted that the stimulus which it was intended to give to mind and genius, in other words, the promotion of the progress of science and the arts, will be increased by the motives which the bill offers to the inhabitants of Great Britain and France.

"The committee conclude by asking leave to introduce the bill which accompanies this report."

It is unnecessary to copy the bill, which in a few words seeks to give effect to the views of the committee.

ART. XI.-The Great Metropolis. By the author of "Random Recollections of the Lords and Commons." In two volumes. Vol. I., second edition. London and New York: 1837.

The second volume of the work before us is exclusively devoted to the subject of the newspaper press and periodical literature of London. This is the most interesting part of the book, but at present we shall not notice it farther than may be necessary in making a few remarks upon the literary merits of the author; confining ourselves principally to the first volume, in which the range of subjects treated is wider, although not very extensive.

« PreviousContinue »