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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/425

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411
EDITOR'S TABLE.

tected, it would have been impossible; and the fact that with the recent enormous development of piracy, which respects nobody's rights of property, they have suffered material losses, is but a confirmation of the point that the open competition proposed in the present plan would have exactly the same effect that piracy is having now.

In fact, then, we have a practice which has grown up under existing conditions that makes no distinction between our authors and those of other countries, which is supported by a large class of readers, and which only needs the simplest legal sanction to completely solve the question of international copyright without resort to untried, complicated, and otherwise doubtful business methods.

Looked at from the moral side, which really is the only proper stand-point, Mr. Smith's plan is, if possible, open to still stronger objection, and its defects in this respect are so cleverly and forcibly pointed out by Professor Huxley in the "Nineteenth Century" that we make no apology for quoting bis remarks in full. He says:

I find in Mr. Pearsall Smith's interesting paper two chief matters for consideration: the one is a statement of the moral principles by which the transatlantic English-speaking people propose to govern themselves in dealing with the property of British authors; and the other is a plan for securing to the said British authors such a price for the use of their property as is compatible with the moral principles in question. The principles are very easily gathered from Mr. Pearsall Smith's candid exposition of them. Transatlantic readers, it appears, by no means go so far as to deny that a book is the property of its author; and they are evidently quite shocked at the notion that, when they possess themselves of a pirated edition, they may be placing themselves in the position of receivers of stolen goods. Their conscience has been stirred to its depths by the suspicion that such may be the case, and will give them no peace until they are satisfied that the man whose genius has charmed away their sorrows or opened up new vistas for their intellect has not been left to starve on mere praise. All they ask (and they seem to think the request a grace) is that they themselves shall be the assessors of the pecuniary value of their obligations. "Our souls require moral and intellectual elevation; we are accustomed to get these elevators cheaply, and we mean to go on getting them cheaply. We shall be happy to consider any arrangement for rewarding the makers of the elevators consistently with that declaration; but they had better recollect that we are masters of the situation, and that we shall appropriate our spiritual nourishment without payment, if we can not get it at our own price." In England we still retain so much of the ingrained conservatism of the decaying civilizations of Europe, that, if a starving man goes into a baker's shop, and carries off a sixpenny loaf, leaving only twopence in its place, the poor wretch is haled before the nearest magistrate and sent to prison for a thief. It would be no good whatever for him to plead that his bodily frame absolutely required to be elevated and kept erect by regular installments of bread; that he had been accustomed all his life to get a big loaf for twopence; and that, in his judgment, the baker got quite enough profit out of the two-pence—to prison he would go. But see the difference. The starveling is not (at any rate yet) master of the situation, and the baker (plus the magistrate) is. However, we are altering all these things rapidly. It baa become an axiom among a large and influential class of our politicians, that a want constitutes a good claim for that which you want, but which other people happen to possess. The "earth hunger" of the many has established itself as an excellent plea for the spoliation of the land-owning few; lease-holders are already trying the effect of "house-hunger" on house-owners; and the happy time seems approaching when the consumer, and not the producer, will fix the price of all things desirable. The course of action by which, according to Mr, Pearsall Smith, transatlantic readers propose to deal with British authors, is but another anticipation of that social millennium when the "have-nots," whether they lack land or house or money or capacity or morals, will have parted among themselves all the belongings of the "haves"—save the two last mentioned. The proposed plan for "protected copyright with free-trade competition" has one merit. It recognizes the right of property of an author in his work. It is a frank confession that piracy is theft. But, as a practical measure, I can not say I feel any confidence in its working. The author is to provide