Petition on the Copyright Bill

Petition on the Copyright Bill  (1839) 
by Thomas Carlyle

To the Honorable the Commons of England in Parliament assembled, the Petition of Thomas Carlyle, a Writer of Books,

Humbly showeth,

That your petitioner has written certain books, being incited thereto by various innocent or laudable considerations, chiefly by the thought that said books might in the end be found to be worth something.

That your petitioner had not the happiness to receive from Mr. Thomas Tegg, or any Publisher, Republisher, Printer, Bookseller, Bookbuyer, or other the like man or body of men, any encouragement or countenance in writing of said books, or to discern any chance of receiving such; but wrote them by effort of his own and the favor of Heaven.

That all useful labor is worthy of recompense; that all honest labor is worthy of the chance of recompense; that the giving and assuring to each man what recompense his labor has actually merited, may be said to be the business of all Legislation, Polity, Government, and Social Arrangement whatsoever among men;—a business indispensable to attempt, impossible to accomplish accurately, difficult to accomplish without inaccuracies that become enormous, unsupportable, and the parent of Social Confusions which never altogether end.

That your petitioner does not undertake to say what recompense in money this labor of his may deserve; whether it deserve any recompense in money, or whether money in any quantity could hire him to do the like.

That this his labor has found hitherto, in money or money's worth, small recompense or none; that he is by no means sure of its ever finding recompense, but thinks that, if so, it will be at a distant time, when he, the laborer, will probably no longer be in need of money, and those dear to him will still be in need of it.

That the law does at least protect all persons in selling the production of their labor at what they can get for it, in all market places, to all lengths of time. Much more than this the law does to many, but so much it does to all, and less than this to none.

That your petitioner cannot discover himself to have done unlawfully in this his said labor of writing books, or to have become criminal, or have forfeited the law's protection thereby. Contrariwise your petitioner believes firmly that he is innocent in said labor; that if he be found in the long run to have written a genuine enduring book, his merit therein, and desert towards England and English and other men, will be considerable, not easily estimable in money; that on the other hand, if his book prove false and ephemeral, he and it will be abolished and forgotten, and no harm done. That, in this manner, your petitioner plays no unfair game against the world; his stake being life itself, so to speak (for the penalty is death by starvation), and the world's stake nothing till once it see the dice thrown; so that in any case the world cannot lose.

That in the happy and long-doubtful event of the game's going in his favor, your petitioner submits that the small winnings thereof do belong to him or his, and that no other mortal has justly either part or lot in them at all, now, henceforth, or for ever.

May it therefore please your Honorable House to protect him in said happy and long-doubtful event; and (by passing your Copy Right Bill) forbid all Thomas Teggs and other extraneous penoua, entirely unconcerned in this adventure of his, to steal from him his small winnings, for a space of sixty years at the shortest. After sixty years, unless your Honorable House provide otherwise, they may begin to steal.

And your petitioner will ever pray.

Thomas Carlyle.