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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/423

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT

THE latest scheme for an international copyright combining some of the more prominent provisions of earlier plans with a new feature of his own, is offered by Mr. R. Pearsall Smith of Philadelphia, and printed in a recent number of the "Nineteenth Century." The comments on the plan of a dozen distinguished Englishmen accompany the article, the publication of which, whatever the fate of the proposal, has served at least one good purpose. By renewing attention to the subject it has set people thinking and provoked discussion, and in a case fraught with such rank injustice to our home as well as to foreign authors, every general stirring up of the question must do good. It will help to quicken the moral sense of the community, and perhaps in time will make it lively enough to force Congress into the performance of what all right-thinking persons are agreed is a clear national duty.

Of the plan itself, however, as a practical working solution of the difficulty, little that is favorable can be said or expected. Accustomed, through the piratical practices of former years, to an abundant supply of low-priced literature, American readers will not, it is claimed, consent to a monopoly copyright on foreign books, or, put in another form, they will continue to deny to the property rights of the foreign author that reasonable measure of protection which is now freely accorded to the rights of our authors at home.

The reasons assigned for their persistence in this palpably unfair discrimination are, in substance, that such a law would mean English prices for foreign books in this country; it would cause a great diminution in the volume of our literature; cheap editions would disappear from the market, and the publisher would be enriched at the expense of the reader, without any corresponding benefit to the author.

To avoid this imaginary revolution in the literary affairs of the United States, and at the same time secure to the foreign author his dues, the scheme in question proposes to give to any one in this country the privilege of publishing in any style and at any price he sees fit, any foreign book he may select, on condition that he first pay to the author a royalty of ten per cent on the retail price of each copy of the work he expects to sell. The evidence of his compliance with this requirement is obtained in the form of stamps, which the author is obliged to furnish to every applicant, or as a penalty for refusal suffer the loss of all his American rights. A single stamp is to be affixed to each copy of the book before it leaves the publisher's hands; and is thus expected to serve as a check on possible attempts to dispose of unauthorized editions.

To illustrate the way in which an arrangement of this kind would be likely to work in practice, we will suppose that some spirited author ventures upon a choice of publishers, and finding one who is bold enough to negotiate, he bargains to have his book brought out in a style suited to the subject, to his own reputation, and to the class of readers he is expecting to reach, trusting the result to the joint interest of his publisher in the enterprise. The next week, six months, or perhaps a year later, as the case may be, he is compelled under the new law to mercilessly cut the throat of his business associate, wiping out his property, and destroying his market, in the interest of another publisher, who, shrewd enough to see his opportunity and having the game in his