Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/720

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

priety of protecting copyright, and it appears to us that the principle of copyright, if admitted, is one of universal application. We, therefore, recommend that this country should pursue the policy of recognizing the author's rights, irrespective of nationality."

Very different was the treatment of this question under similar circumstances by the American Government. Its attitude in regard to the rights of authorship has long been the scandal of the civilized world, and efforts from time to time have been made to induce a change in the national policy. A committee of the United States Senate was appointed in 1873 to consider the subject, and report what action it is desirable to take. The proceeding that followed was nothing less than disgraceful, evincing, as it did, a contemptuous indifference toward the whole subject. Not the slightest interest was expressed in it, either as a question of private right or public honor. While the English report opened the whole inquiry on broad moral grounds, the American report sharply closed it to all considerations of equity, justice, and right. While the hand of the lawyer was hardly discernible in the English document, no other hand was visible in ours. Instead of a valuable and instructive statement befitting the magnitude and seriousness of the question, the American report was but a shabby tract of half a dozen pages, arguing as usual that the Constitution is in the way of any change of existing practices. In the discussion before the committee, arguments on the right and wrong of the question were objected to by the senatorial chairman as irrelevant, and under his ruling the debate shrank into a mere pettifogging wrangle over constitutional clauses, and a ventilation of the most ridiculous projects, which were held in the report to show that the American people are not agreed upon the subject. The committee declared that they saw nothing wrong which it is desirable to correct, and recommend Congress to take no action in the matter. It was but another exemplification of the way legal and constitutional forms are used in this country for the protection of palpable wrongs. Instead of asking first what is right, and then demanding that the law shall be made to conform to it, the people, like the lawyers, ask first what is the law, and then hold that this determines the right.


We print a brief discussion of the copyright question, by Mr. Leonard Scott, under the title of "Piratical Publishers," which, whatever its demerits, has at least the merit of being thoroughly American. Although discussing the question how a given act should be morally characterized, his standard of judgment is but the dictum of American law.

It is not easy to defend a right and its opposite wrong by the same argument, as the reasons which favor the one destroy the other. Hence, in most discussions upon the subject, it will be found that those who oppose international copyright do it upon grounds that are equally subversive of domestic copyright. All arguments which put the public advantages of cheap literature above the rights of authors to property in their books, tell just as effectually against the American as the English author, and logically require the immediate destruction of American copyright laws. If the taking of Professor Tyndall's book from him without payment, that the American public may have it cheaply, is no crime, neither would the taking of Professor Silliman's book, for the same purpose, be a crime. Mr. Scott reasons that, although a right might be conceded in a Utopian state of society, where one universal government should legislate for the equal advantage of all, yet, as this is not the