John Jay.

International copyright. Memorials of John Jay and of William C. Bryant and others, in favor of an international copyright law. March 22, 1848, referred to a Select committee. April 29, 1848, ordered online

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Online LibraryJohn JayInternational copyright. Memorials of John Jay and of William C. Bryant and others, in favor of an international copyright law. March 22, 1848, referred to a Select committee. April 29, 1848, ordered → online text (page 1 of 4)
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30th Congress, [HO. OF REPS.] Miscellaneous.

1st Session. No. 70.






An international copyright law.

March 22, 1848. — Referred to a Select Committee.
Atril 29, 1848. — Ordered to be printed.

To the honorable the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress

assembled :

The memorial of the undersigned, a citizen of the State of New York,

Respectfully asks

The attention of your honorable bodies to the insufficient protection
afforded to American literature by the present law of Congress on the
subject of copyright.

Your memorialist, from a careful examination of the subject, is well per-
suaded that many injuries, direct and remote, are inflicted, by the exclu-
sion of foreigners from the privileges of that act, upon the rights of Ameri-
can authors, upon the stability and respectability of the American book
trade, and upon the interests of the American reading public; and that
the passage of an international copyright law, by which foreign authors
shall be allowed their copyright here, and American authors assisted to
their copyright abroad, would not only be an act of national justice, but
of national policy; that it would afford to our native authors, what they
have never yet enjoyed, " a fair field ;" that it would supply a new
stimulus to intellectual exertion, infuse a more elevated tone into our
national literature, give a healthier character and a wider competition to
the American book trade, and secure a better class of books for general

In support of these views, your memorialist prays leave to submit to
your honorable bodies a few arguments and facts.

That the restriction of the privileges of copyright to American authors
may have been intended for their advantage, is highly probable; but
its full operation, until within a few years, has been very imperfectly
understood, and has never been fully brought to the attention of Con-

Tippin & Streeper, printers.

2 Mis. No. 76.

The Committee on the Judiciary in the House of Representatives,
(December 17, 1S30,) who reported the present copyright act, after draw-
ing a comparison between the legislation of this country for the protection
of literature, and that of England, France, Rnssia, Norway, and Sweden,
and declaring that the comparison showed that the United States were
far behind the States of Europe in securing the fruits of intellectual labor,
and in encouraging men of letters, thus warmly expressed themselves in
regard to the rights and claims of authors :

" Your committee believe that the just claims of authors require from
our legislation a protection not less than what is proposed in the bill re-
ported. Upon the first principles of proprietorship in property, an author
has an exclusive and perpetual right, in preference to any other, to the fruits
of his labors. Though the nature of literary property is peculiar, it is not
the less real and valuable. If labor and effort in producing what be/ore was
not possessed or known will give title, then the literary man has title perfect
and absolute, and should have his revmrd ; he writes and he labors as
assiduously as does the mechanic or husbandman. The scholar who
secludes himself and wastes his life, and often his property, to enlighten
the world, has the best right to the profits of those labors. The planter,
the mechanic, the professional man, cannot prefer a better title to what
is admitted to be his own. Nor is there any doubt what the interest
and honor of the country demand on this subject. *

We ought to present every reasonable inducement to influence men to con-
secrate their talents to the advancement of science. It cannot be for the
interest or honor of our country that intellectual labor should be depreciated,
and a life devoted to research and laborious study terminate in disappoint-
ment and poverty."

No constitutional objection to the extension of copyright to foreigners
existed to influence, the committee in their restriction of that right to
American writers, for the constitution authorizes 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 resi-
dents of this country. The object was to promote the progress of " science L
and useful arts," which have been well said to belong to no party oi 5
country, but to mankind generally. And Congress has already adopted !U
the principle in the laws regulating patents, by extending their benefits tc
foreign inventions and improvements.

It seems, therefore, evident that the Congress by which the preseni
amended copyright act was passed were not aware of the many injuries
growing our. of the exclusive system which they recognised and re
established, to the very parties whom it was intended and expected tc
benefit. These injuries may be thus staled :

I. — Injury to American authors.
1. In regard to the sale of their books at home.

The present act, while inten i id to protect American authors in the fill u
enjoyment of their work b\ them an exclusive right to their dispo

sjiiou for a long term ol peai u the nine time introduces an unfair an( t,
ruinous competition bj allnv ing them to be undersold by American book ,,
sellers, selecting and oth fame and wealth by their writings, is very true; but it is also true
hat some, whose early literary productions were marked by great excel-
ence and great promise, have been forced to relinquish the profession of
:tters for other pursuits more likely to yield them a support; and it is
qually true that many American authors, whose writings have delighted
nd instructed both the Old and the New world, instead of enjoying from
leir works a comfortable independence, and being enabled to devote
lemselves, untramnlelled byothei cares, to their honorable and elevating
isk, derive with difficulty slender subsistence from the price received
>r the copyright of works which have, in some instances, realized for-
mes to English publishers.

2. In regard to the sale of their books abroad.

By the act of the British Parliament, 1st and 2d Vict., chap. 59, for se-
aring to authors, in certain cases, the benefit of international copyright,
revision is made for affording protection within Great Britain to the au-
lors of books first published in foreign countries, and their assigns, in
ases where protection shall be afforded in such foreign countries to the
uthors of books first published in Great Britain ; but in the absence of
ich protection here to foreign authors, it is denied in Great Britain to
merican authors, and the denial of this protection is to them a serious
ijury. The extent to which American books are reprinted and sold in
'.uglaud is probably little known in this country. In the " Report of
ie Committee on Patents and the Patent Office," adverse to an inter-
ational copyright law, in the Senate of the United States, (25th Congress
i session, No. 494,) June 25th, 1S3S, less than ten years since, alter re-
aring to the advantages which such a bill would give to an English
athor here, the report proceeded :

' : It may be asked if we should not have an offset in similar advan-
ces under the copyright law of Great Britain. The answer is found in
ie significant inquiry of the British reviewer. ' Who reads an American
ookr The difficulty and expanse of bringing an American work into
otice with the British public are entirely insurmountable by American
uthors generally. It is stated in a recent publication that two hundred
and| n d fifty copies of Marshall's Life of V A ashii vised and condensed,

Dine six years since, by the author, were sent to England by on< of our


4 Mis. No. 76.

publishing houses, whose bookselling connexions there were extensive,
and offered to the trade at about one- fourth of the price of the first edi-
tions. The books remained in London two years, and fifty copies only
were sold, on a long credit. The remaining two hundred copies were
sent back, saddled with heavy expenses. This is a single instance from
many, illustrating how litle demand there is in England for American

To exhibit, by positive proof, the singular incorrectness of this state-
ment, your memorialist has hereto appended a list (appendix B) of up-
wards of five hundred American works reprinted in Enland by English
publishers, which have been selected from a catalogue of English books,
in which they appeared with nothing to designate their American origin."
Incomplete as this list probably is, from the impossibility of always recog-
nising American works under the new titles with which they are often re-
printed, and imperfect as is the view it presents of American literature in
Englard,for the reason that it frequently designates but one edition and one
publisher — whereas, in many cases, numerous editions have been put forth
by various publishers ; and inasmuch, also, as of late years a large num-
ber of American books have been exported to England, and there sold
through an American agency at London, of which no note is here taken —
it will yet suffice to give some idea of the extent to which our own au-
thors are losers by being deprived of a copyright in Great Britain.

The " North American Review," after noticing the common impression
that the benefits of an international copyright would be, with an immense
preponderance, on the side of English authors, and that those of America
are too few and the works too little relished in England to be of much im-
portance in the comparison, remarks :f "No opinion can be more erroneous,
iSince the Edinburgh Review asked, some 25 years ago, "Who reads an
American book V the tables have been turning exceedingly fast. They are
turning at this moment faster than ever ; and it is the opinion of as impartial
and competent judges as any to be found, that in half as much more time
an international copyright law will be decidedly of more value to Ameri-
can authors than to British. A very large part of the transactions of the
book trade in both countries is in books for children's reading, and for
their use in school education ; and in both of these departments — in the
latter, from the most elementary to the most elaborate treatises — American
works (generally, but not always, under some thin disguise) are fast
driving the English out of their market. Dr. Anthon's series of school
classics * # they find much better than any to which they have hitherto
been used ; and from Peter Parley and the Abbott books up to Leverett's
Latin Lexicon and the Cambridge Mathematics, the ingenuous youth of
the fast-anchored isle are enjoying luxuries in the way of instruction
hitherto all unknown. In law, the treatises of the American Judge Story

•The following clai lification of American hooks printed in England some five years s^ro, i?
taken from Wiley

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Online LibraryJohn JayInternational copyright. Memorials of John Jay and of William C. Bryant and others, in favor of an international copyright law. March 22, 1848, referred to a Select committee. April 29, 1848, ordered → online text (page 1 of 4)