Petition on Copyright

The petition of Archibald Alison, Esquire, Advocate, Sheriff of Lanarkshire, Sheweth,

That your petitioner has, for a great number of years past, turned his attention to the composition of a History of Europe during the French Revolution, from the year seventeen hundred and eighty-nine to the year eighteen hundred and fifteen.

That, with a view to the collection of the materials and the acquisition of the local information requisite for a work of such magnitude, it was unavoidably necessary for your petitioner to visit in person the principal countries in Europe, and purchase the works, in all its languages, bearing upon so extensive a subject.

That, during the last twenty-five years, your petitioner has, with this view, six times repaired to the Continent, and repeatedly visited the principal parts of France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany ; that the cost of these journeys has already exceeded £1500, and the expense of the books found to be necessary for the compilation of the undertaking has amounted to above £2000. If your petitioner lives to complete his undertaking, his total expenditure, on account of it, will be about £4000.

That, during the last twenty-five years, he has been engaged, almost without interruption, except by his professional avocations, in the study and reading requisite for the collection of his materials, and for the last twelve has been sedulously occupied in the composition of the work, which already extends to seven thick volumes, octavo.

That the sale of a work of such magnitude, and so costly, (the price of the seven volumes being £4 15*.) especially when undertaken by aa author wholly unknown to the public, necessarily was at first very slow.

That it must be obvious to every one acquainted with the subject, that a work of such magnitude and expense, the cost of it when completed being five pounds ten shillings, cannot be expected to get into general circulation in this country, even under the most favourable circumstances, till the accuracy of the information it contains is tested by the examination of intelligent persons of all the countries whose transactions it embraces, and its reputation, if it is to obtain any, is reflected to this country from the adjoining empires. It is now undergoing this ordeal, and is in course of publication at Paris in the French language, and of translation at Leipsic into the German.

That your petitioner has not disposed of the entire copyright of any part of the work, but merely sells to his publishers each successive edition of it as it is called for by the public ; two editions have already been printed, and a third will shortly go to press.

That your petitioner, judging of the future profits of the work by what he has already received, cannot expect to be indemnified for the actual outlay expended in its prosecution, with the interest at the lowest rate on the sums from the period at which they were advanced, in less than fourteen years.

That if the work should stand the test of time and general examination, it cannot be expected to come into general circulation for many years more, and would probably be on the eve of reaching its highest point at the time when the copyright of it, under the existing law, would expire.

That no person can be more strongly impressed than your petitioner is with the extremely uncertain nature of every literary reputation, and the very small number of works which ever survive more than a few years beyond the period of their publication. But if his history," from the labour and expense bestowed on its composition, is destined to survive its author, and if the sale of it shall continue when the work is finished at the same average rate at which it has gone on since the publication commenced, he will be reimbursed for his advances in fourteen years from the period of publication ; in fourteen more he will be remunerated at about one-half the rate which he would have obtained if he had devoted the same time and labour on any of the ordinary publications of the day. But at the same rate of sale, should the copyright be continued for thirty or forty years longer, the work would become a property of great value to your petitioner's family.

Therefore, your petitioner humbly prays your honourable house to take the premises into your consideration, and to pass into a law the bill now brought into parliament by Mr. Serjeant Talfourd for an amendment of the law relating to copyrights, under such modification as shall to your wisdom seem meet.