Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/December 1878/Professor Huxley Before the English Copyright Commission


CHAIRMAN. Your attention has, no doubt, been called to the copyright question in a practical shape?

Answer. Yes.

Q. Will you kindly give the commission a general outline of the way in which it presents itself to you?

A. It appears to me, in the first place, that, if there be any foundation for property at all, it is as clear in the case of a book as of anything else, a book being the investment of a man's capacity and knowledge, and requiring the sacrifice of a vast amount of his time. Under those circumstances it appears to me that prima facie it has the same right to be protected as any other kind of property. But then, of course, a practical difficulty arises from the fact that a book can be readily copied, and that under those circumstances what evidently amounts to stealing the property of the author cannot very well be brought under the ordinary conditions of theft. I should, however, be glad in the first place to express my belief that, so far as a matter of right is concerned, if there be any foundation for rights of property, the right of an author in a book is as complete, and extends as far, as the right of any person to any property whatever. I think that my view upon the subject will be clear if I take the concrete case of a man who has written a book and who has a certain number of printed copies of it in his printer's or publisher's hands. I presume that there is no doubt whatever that those copies are his property in the strictest sense of the word, and that the law will protect him against any person who proposes to rob him of that property. I have recently met with the argument (and, singularly enough, professing to proceed from the straitest school of free-traders), that the state, or the Legislature acting for it, should, as I understand the argument, regard books as a kind of property to be disposed of mainly for the benefit of the persons who read them, and that the state should take upon itself somewhat the same function as it used formerly to do when it passed sumptuary laws, and should regulate the amount of profit to be derived by the author according to what it considers fair and reasonable. That strikes me as being a reversal of all rules of commercial policy at present recognized. But supposing it to be admitted that that is a right and just thing to do, I do not see why you should not go a step further. If, for example, I had had the good fortune to write such a work as "Hamlet" or the "Principia," it would appear, according to that line of argument, that the state would be justified in seizing all the copies of it, and in disposing of them in such a manner as might be conducive to their distribution, and that mainly on the ground of the great service to the public which those books might render. I do not know whether any one has carried the argument so far as that, but it appears to me to be the legitimate outcome of it. However, an author who has an edition in his publisher's hands has a right, at present, to regard it as his absolute property, to deal with as he pleases, and he has a further right as vender to make any contract which he pleases with any person who proposes to be a purchaser of one of the copies of that book; that is to say, if he chooses to make it a condition of sale that the purchaser shall not copy or multiply by printing the work which the vender sells under certain penalties, I apprehend that the existing law will enable him to recover those penalties from any person who violates that contract. The property being his own, he has a right to make any conditions he pleases with regard to the disposal of it; the person who buys buys on those conditions, and is subject to them. That appears to me to be the natural mode of looking at the trade in books as a branch of commerce which is subject to the ordinary rules of free trade, namely, that a man shall make any contract which he pleases with regard to the disposal of his property. And I look upon the copyright law simply as a means of overcoming the inconvenience which would arise out of that state of things; it would be a very cumbrous process; it would largely interfere with the sale of books, and it would doubtless be very hard to recover the penalties in the case of a breach of contract. So far from copyright law being any favor which the state confers upon the author, any privilege which is granted to him by the state, it seems to me that it is simply a mode of preventing such inconvenience as I have just referred to; so that in my apprehension the application of the word "monopoly" to persons who possess rights under the copyright law is an entire mistake; it is merely a contrivance, arising out of the peculiar nature of book property, to put that property upon the same footing as other kinds of property. I think that that is all I have to say upon the general part of the question.

Q. Are we to understand it to be your contention that, under the old common law of the country, there would have been a right in the author to sell or not to sell his book in any way he pleased, and that for the convenience of the public the statute law has intervened, and, by what is commonly called the law of copyright, has attached certain conditions, and even restrictions, to that common-law right, for the benefit of the author on the one hand and of the public on the other; is that generally your view?

A. I would not suggest for a moment that that is the actual historical origin of copyright law, but I think that that is the way in which it ought to be regarded as a matter of equity.

Mr. Trollope. Those who have given evidence before us rather in opposition to than in support of the present law of copyright have sometimes done so on the plea that the law at present is favorable rather to booksellers than to authors, and they have based that plea on an idea that authors, as a rule, dispose of their copyrights to publishers, so that the property becomes not the property of the man who has worked with his brain, but merely of a speculator. As far as you are aware, do you think that authors do dispose of their copyrights entirely?

A. I cannot say. I certainly do not do so myself, and I do not think that I know among the men of science anybody who does; but it appears to me that, supposing such to be the case, it applies to all sorts of property, and to the relations of needy men to middle-men of all kinds.

Q. The second part of your answer is perhaps a sufficient answer to the next question which I was going to ask you. As far as you are aware it is not so; but, even if it were so, you do not think that that would be any argument against the present law of copyright?

A. No; I take it that that must inevitably happen wherever men want money, and there are persons who are willing to buy their property.

Q. It has been suggested to us, though I can hardly say that it has been absolutely recommended, that, in lieu of the present modes of disposing of literary property, an author should have a right to a continued royalty; that is to say, that any publisher should be enabled to bring out an author's work, paying him some proportion of the price, which should be fixed not at all by the author, but by the law. Do you imagine that such a scheme as that could work?

A. No. Who is to be the judge as to what is the value of the author's work but himself? Who is there in the Government who is competent to form the slightest conception about it? What suggests itself to me is that the matter should be left to the ordinary operations of supply and demand. Why am I to be debarred from making any bargain I please with regard to a piece of literary property, otherwise than with regard to any other property?

Q. Does not it occur to you that no fixed percentage, let it range as it might, from five up to fifty per cent., could be fairly applicable to all classes of books?

A. Am I to understand that the proposition is to make one fixed percentage for all classes of books?

Q. As far as we have understood the proposition that is the proposition which has been made.

A. I can hardly conceive that that has been made as a serious proposition by anybody who knows anything about the writing of books; it is simply astonishing.

Q. You are aware of the present term of copyright?

A. Yes.

Q. You are aware that the copyright for your works will probably not come to an end all at the same period, unless it should happen that you should live for a very long time after the completion of the last; for instance, that if you were to die say within the next fifteen, twenty, or thirty years, the copyright of your works would come to a close at various periods, the law being that each should have whichever was longest, forty-two years or seven years after life; and you may probably be aware, to take the instance of one author, that the earliest of Mr. Dickens's copyrights are running out, I believe, in this year, and that the latter of them will run on to, I think, the year 1912. Does it not occur to you that it would be desirable that property of this kind should come to its conclusion all at one and the same time?

A. Your question rather involves an opinion upon the propriety of terminating the copyright at all, and I am by no means satisfied that there is any ground for terminating a man's right to his property in books rather than in anything else.

Q. You are probably aware that the French term is fifty years after death, and the German thirty years after death?

A. Yes.

Q. And that therefore in Germany or in France the copyrights of an author will come to their conclusion at the same time?

A. Yes.

Q. I will ask you whether you do not think that that mode is a better mode than the one which we have adopted. Putting aside the question whether an author's copyright should be perpetual, and assuming that the law will enact as it has enacted, that there shall be a term, would it not appear to you that a term similar to the French or the German term would be better than ours?

A. I think so, if you are to have a limit.

Q. You will no doubt perceive, with regard to your own works, that under the present system a time will come when your executors, or those who come after you, will be debarred from protection in the publication of all your works, although they will be protected in the publication of a part?

A. Certainly.

Q. Does not that appear to you to be inconvenient?

A. I think so, very.

Mr. Jenkins. You say that you think that a book, being the investment of a man's capacity and knowledge and time, is as much his property as any other property, and that the right of an author extends as far as the right of any person to any property whatever. I only want to ask you to point out what, of course, must have occurred to you, that there is a distinction between a book which conveys ideas and a machine which embodies them in a form which cannot be carried away or altered; and I would ask, considering the fact that supposing you write a book, another man, without stealing your book can steal all your ideas, and adapt and use them, whether there is not, therefore, a distinction between the property in a book and the property in any other thing?

A. No; I do not think that the property in a man's book consists in the ideas. I should limit his property entirely to the particular form in which he chooses to clothe those ideas. If you come to look into the matter carefully, it would be very hard to say how far the ideas contained in a man's book are his own; he owes them very largely to his ancestors and his surroundings, and to other people, and I do not think that is at all clear that you would be justified in laying an embargo upon a particular set of ideas because they happened to be contained in a particular book. My contention for the protection of property in books is entirely with regard to the particular form in which the author chooses to put his ideas.

Q. Supposing that, instead of writing a book, a man gives a series of lectures, for instance, as you do—fortunately for England—and that those lectures are reported, or that persons carry away in their memory the words and the essence of them, you admit that then, a man having chosen to disperse them to the world, neither on principle nor upon the grounds of expediency ought it to be held that those lectures are to be reserved for the man himself?

A. Certainly not the ideas or the facts; but I take it that a man has no right to publish a report of what he shall call my lecture; that is quite another thing: then he asserts that the form is mine as well as the substance. If he chooses to appropriate my ideas and himself publish them in any other form, and say, "This is what I think," I do not think that he should be prevented from doing so, and in my opinion he has a right to do it; but it is quite another matter if he calls anything which he chooses to publish my lecture.

Q. Take the case of Fichte: when he was twelve years of age, if he heard a sermon or an address he could go away and repeat it verbally; you cannot prevent that?

A. Certainly not.

Q. He carries away the ideas, and carries away the whole thing: is he to be prevented from transferring it to anybody else?

A. He is to be prevented from putting it in the shape of a book, and selling it to the disadvantage of the person who has given the lecture or the sermon.

Q. Are you laying down a question of abstract principle, or is it merely one of expediency?

A. With regard to that particular case of lectures, it is a point on which I hold a very strong opinion indeed, I have seen the opinion advanced that a man who has given a lecture has given it to the world, in the same way that a man who has written or published a book has given it to the world, and that on the ground of his having given it to the world he cannot call it back again. I must confess that that strikes me as the strangest confusion between publication and donation. If I announce myself as ready to give a lecture to-morrow, to which persons may be admitted at a certain fee, I make a contract with the persons who come that, in consideration of their paying so much, they shall hear me speak for an hour, and that is all; I do not sell my right to print it and sell the lecture, and especially not my right to call it mine; the contract is a perfectly clear one. Take the case that I open a gallery of photographs, and that I say that people shall be admitted on paying a shilling each: I do not give to every person who comes there the right to copy my photographs and sell those copies himself; we see at once that that would be a preposterous supposition; and in the same way a person, who is admitted to my lecture on the understanding that he is to get his money's worth (if it be his money's worth, I do not say that it will be) in hearing me speak for an hour, does not thereby obtain the privilege of making a profit by printing it and calling it my lecture.

Q. But you admit that, even if you give a lecture to a limited audience, your ideas are thereby distributed?

A. I do not ask for any protection to ideas; it is the form of the thing which is mine.

Q, It is simply the matter of the form in which you embody your ideas, and it is for that that you claim protection?

A. Certainly.

Q. Is there not a very great distinction between the form literary and the form artistic or mechanical?

A. I really do not see where the distinction lies.

Q. Supposing that I have invented a machine, if I write an account of it to the Contemporary Review or the Forntightly, or to any mechanical magazine, and it is published, after that I cannot get a patent for it?

A. No.

Q. Why, therefore, should you who have given a lecture, or have even written a lecture, if you choose to make it known in any way to other persons, have a right still to get a copyright for it?

A. The assumption in that argument, I think, is that the patent law is just: to that I venture to demur, in which case I need not follow out the parallel.

Q. I am advisedly not putting a question about the justice of it?

A. It is obvious that, if I do not admit the justice of a regulation in virtue of which a man who has published a design for a machine cannot obtain a patent for it, the rest of the argument does not affect me.

Q. Then you would put them all on the same footing?

A. Certainly.

Q. So that, really, to support the whole of your argument, you would be obliged to fall back upon this: that a man has a copyright in his ideas?

A. No; in the form into which he puts them. For example, in the case which you were suggesting to me just now, a man who makes a machine not only has an idea about his machine, but he embodies it in a particular form, with a certain application; and I think that is one of the great defects of the present patent law, that it has given protection to the idea in applications of which the original inventor never dreamed. I should restrict all protection of that kind to the precise result of a man's intellectual activity, that which is specially his own.

Q. Before we had a copyright law it was held, as you are probably aware, that if a man had embodied his ideas in the shape of a manuscript, that manuscript before he had handed it to a printer was his property, not merely the paper and the writing, but also all that was in it, that is to say, the form in which it was embodied, and that he could sell it to a publisher; but now there is an alteration in that: before a man hands his manuscript to a publisher he has a right to the ideas and to the form, but, after he has handed it to a publisher, and it is. published, then in virtue of the statute law he becomes entitled to a property in what you very properly call the form of the book. The result, after all, is that it has simply been adopted as a matter of expediency and of public policy that there should be conferred upon men who write books a certain right of obtaining a profit from them during a certain time. If your contention were correct with regard to the theory of a property in books and ideas, ought not the property to be a lasting one without any definite period?

A. Certainly; I have not a doubt of it.

Q. Then you would urge upon this commission that, when a man had put his ideas into the form of a book, the copyright in that book ought to exist forever?

A. I think that, as a matter of strict right, it should be so, but as a matter of expediency I do not think it is worth while asking for it; I think that a couple of generations would probably be as much as in practice is really needed; but, if you ask me what I think is his abstract right, I should certainly say that the man should have the property in perpetuity, and be able to hand it down to his children like any other property.

Q. Then on what theory is our present copyright law framed, if that is your opinion?

A. I would rather decline to have to justify the existing copyright law at all; I am not concerned in doing so; I think that it is not easily justifiable.

Q. That brings us to a practical question: how would you practically embody in legislation your idea of the principles of a just copyright law.

A. That would really be a matter requiring very grave consideration.

Q. Let us take it in stages. First of all, at all events, you would insist upon the absolute right of the author to a property in his book?

A. Yes.

Q. In perpetuity?

A. I do not insist upon perpetuity.

Q. I mean simply for the moment, abstractedly?

A. For the present.

Q. Then you would recognize that there might be reasons of public policy why it should not be granted in perpetuity?

A. I would rather say that it is not worth while practically to attempt to get a thing which it is hardly likely you will be able to get under the present state of the public feeling. If we had to begin de novo, I should certainly insist upon the perpetuity of the property, but at present I think that it would be impracticable and hardly worth while.

Q. Still, going upon your principle that, abstractedly, the author ought to have it in perpetuity, of course it would only be a reservation on the ground of public policy, or something of that sort, which would justify a limitation?

A. I think that there is another justification, namely, that it is not worth while in real life to attempt to get things which it is impossible to get.

Q. We are really looking at the matter for the moment from different standing-points: I am not asking you to consider it from the point of view of an author who is willing to take what he can get; I am asking you, if you will do so for the moment, to look at it simply from the point of view of a statesman who is considering what ought to be the principles of the law. First of all you lay down a very wide and general principle, namely, that an author is entitled to the ideas which he embodies in a book as much as any other person who owns property, whether it is a table or an acre of land, is entitled to it?

A. Pardon me, I have been very careful to say that I think that an author has a right to the form in which he embodies his ideas.

Q. That is what I said; I supposed him to embody his ideas in a book. Then you will admit that, if there is a copyright law which limits that right, the only justification for that limitation would be public policy, or public convenience, or something of that sort. Let us take it from that point of view: how can you reconcile that view of the principle of a copyright law with the existing law?

A. I do not reconcile it; I ventured to say just now that I think that the present law is bad in principle.

Q. Then you admit that the present law is not based on your principle?

A. Certainly not.

Sir H. D. Wolff. Have you thought upon the subject whether it would not be for the advantage of authors that the copyright should be extended for a period longer than exists at present; that it should even be made the perpetual property of the family of the author?

A. My impression is, that it would be for the advantage of the author if copyright were made perpetual.

Q. You said just now that the legislation had not given any privilege to the author by giving him copyright; surely it gives him a protection to his property which would not otherwise exist; do you not think so?

A. Quite so. But I ventured to say that that was not a boon but simply a piece of justice, and that he ought to have the protection.

Q. But do you not think that the Legislature would not give the protection unless it was for the benefit of the public that authors should be encouraged?

A. Assuming that it is advantageous that they should be encouraged, a certain benefit is given to the public.

Q. The copyright is given to the author that he should be free to publish his works?

A. I look upon a book in the same way as I look upon any other kind of property. There are people who discuss the expediency of the protection of any property at all; but it appears to me that upon every ground upon which it is expedient to protect any sort of property it is expedient to protect book property.

Q. I am not at all disputing that, but I wish to arrive at this view, that you give this protection to the author to enable him to have property in what is a peculiar property; there must be a peculiar protection given to a property of peculiar nature, and, having once given him that protection, do you not think that the book itself, or the chattel which he produces, should then go into the ordinary rules of supply and demand; that is to say, that when you have done that, and have reserved to him his property in his book, the public ought to be able to obtain that book, so long as his rights are guarded, at the cheapest possible rate?

A. I do not see why the public has a right to demand it in the case of books more than in the case of beef, or mutton, or potatoes.

Q. Except that in the supply of beef and mutton and potatoes there is a regular competition?

A. Certainly.

Q. Whereas, there is no competition in books. If you cannot get beef you will get mutton. Whereas, if you cannot get Macaulay's "History" you will get nothing else which represents Macaulay's "History." You want that particular book?

A. But you might say that you want six-year old mutton, and that you cannot be content with anything else.

Q. We do not negotiate with foreign countries to obtain a copyright for six-year old mutton. The object of this commission is not only to improve the laws of copyright in England, but to see whether we cannot extend the rights of English authors to other countries?

A. That is a totally distinct question.

Q. We are the public practically who negotiate for you. If we do that, do you not think that we are entitled to some compensation for the trouble which we have in obtaining all these privileges for you?

A. I am not at all clear about that. I think that, in these matters, the state should have regard to public justice and public morality, without looking for any particular reward from the persons who are served.

Q. But by the present system of copyright, according to the ideas of some people, it does not merely secure the property for the author, who is clearly entitled to every advantage which the law can give him, but it enables the sale of books to be conducted on principles which are not acknowledged in any other branch of trade. For instance, it enables a bookseller or publisher to keep up books at an unnatural price for his own advantage, and, as is thought by some people, very often to the disadvantage of the author.

A. That I cannot comprehend, because in all my own dealings with publishers I have made my own terms, and, if the terms of the publisher do not suit me, I do not publish with that particular publisher.

Q. That I can understand; you make your own terms, no doubt, but some people think that, if instead of the present system of publishing books at a dear rate, and putting them through the circulating libraries at a high rate, any means were devised by which authors could go direct to the public, a larger sale of a cheaper edition of their books would give them greater popularity, as well as more money, than the present restricted system through the circulating libraries?

A. I think that it is a very dangerous thing to suppose that you can regulate matters of that kind by legislation.

Q. But supposing that we obtain copyright for you in America, where the sale of your books is stated to be enormous, it gives you protection, and a greater remuneration for your books in America; would it not be unfair in that case that we, having done this for you, should as the British public be exposed to having a dear edition of your books here, and a cheap edition in America?

A. I would much rather that you did not interfere with us at all. I am now speaking of you as legislators. I would rather that you should not afford especial protection, but should consider books as property like any other property, and not meddle with us in future.

Q. We cannot take that course, because foreigners do interfere with you.

A. And in my opinion they will continue to interfere. I know something about the United States, and their mode of doing business in books in that country, and my own belief is that the expectation that the Americans will ever listen to any proposal of English copyright is chimerical; their system of doing business is quite opposed to it. I do not think that this prospective boon which you offer us is likely to have any great value.

Q. As a matter of author's amour propre, would it not be far more satisfactory to you if your books were possessed by a very great many households in this country rather than being hired from a circulating library?

A. I do not care much about it; if I have half a dozen careful readers, I would rather have them than all the rest of the world put together.

Q. If you got more pay than you do now from having your books sold at a cheaper rate, you would be satisfied with that?

A. I should like to get the more pay in my own fashion, and to deal with it like any other business. I do not want anybody else to help me to get more pay; if you let me deal with my own property in my own fashion, I am quite happy, and I do not thank anybody who interferes.

Sir H. Holland. From your knowledge of American dealing, do you think it at all probable that the Americans would be inclined to make a convention upon the understanding that the book for which copyright is granted is to be published and printed in America?

A. I have never heard that question discussed.

Chairman. Several questions have been asked upon the general aspect of copyright. Coming more to the details of the question, might I ask you what in your opinion would be the effect of the abrogation of or a considerable diminution in the terms of copyright upon works the production of which requires time and research, and perhaps costly illustrations?

A. My impression is, that it would be altogether fatal to the production of works of that kind. I think it will be obvious that such must be the case; and I can speak the more strongly here, because works of that kind are those with which I am familiar. I will take the case of any one who has been preparing a work, let us say upon comparative anatomy, which has probably occupied him for a great many years. He has himself had to make a great number of laborious dissections and to have them drawn, and he or his publisher has had to invest a great deal of money in illustrations. He brings out his book. That book, if it is well done, will preserve its value for a century. At the present moment Cuvier's "Ossemens Fossiles," which I think has been published for about half a century, is in many respects as valuable a book as ever it was, and is as often consulted as ever it was. If when such a book as that is published, or within a short time after it is published, anybody has a right to republish it, the practical effect is that the text will be copied, at probably a thousandth part of the expenditure and time required for its original production, then the illustrations will be copied; and the natural result will be that the reproduction of the book will be sold at a price far less than that at which the original book was sold, the consequence of which is that the author and the publisher of the latter alike have their interests ruined; and the practical result would be that no publisher would take such a book; in fact, he could not do it, he would be liable at any moment to be undersold. That is true of the whole class of botanical works, zoölogical works, anatomical works, and the great mass of illustrated works having relation to physical science.

Q. Carrying on the thought which you have expressed, what, in your opinion, would be the practical result upon all this important class of works which you have described of either abrogating or materially diminishing the term of copyright so far as the public is concerned?

A. I think that it would simply stop their production, and that exactly in proportion to their value and usefulness. The more such works were sought after, and the better they were, and the more largely they were in demand, and suited themselves to the wants of the time, the more certainly would they be pirated, and I do not see how anybody could afford to produce them.

Q. Might it not be that some publisher in a very large way of business might find that he could impose his own terms both on the author and the public?

A. I quite think that that is the inevitable tendency of the abolition or a great diminution of the term of copyright; and I would justify that belief by what happens at the present time in the United States; I myself am paid upon books which are published there; my American publisher remits me a certain percentage upon the selling price of the books there, and that without any copyright which can protect him; but then I am informed that the practice of all the great houses in America (there are some three or four large publishing-houses with very great capital), if anybody publishes one of their books, is to publish a largely cheaper edition at any cost, and they would make any pecuniary sacrifice rather than not cut out a rival. The great houses understand that, and the consequence is that they do not play that game with one another; but, practically, English authors at the present time stand in the same relation to the American publishers that they would to the English publishers if copyright were abolished; and whether I get any money or not from America for my works is entirely dependent upon the strength of my American publisher. If he were not a man who would not stand being trifled with, and if it were not known that he was so, he could not afford to pay me anything.

Q. Therefore, in your opinion, the effect of the contemplated change would be not in the interest of the author, but in the interest of the publisher?

A. I think that neither the author nor the publisher would be served, and I think that the publisher's business would be made very precarious. He might doubtless sometimes reap large profits, but he would always be at the mercy of unscrupulous competition.

Mr. Trollope. Are you assured that this rule to which you allude among American publishing-houses always prevails?

A. I cannot say; I have been assured that it does largely prevail there.

Q. Then you would be surprised to hear if I told you that a large American publisher, who has been for many years in the habit of publishing my own books, and with whom I once remonstrated for doing so without consulting me, told me that he intended to continue to do so, but that he would not republish a certain work if it were published by any other American house before him?

A. Yes; that is a very curious fact. I know of no parallel cases.

Q. But if the case to which I have now alluded is a type of the way in which business is done in the United States, it would be subversive, so far, of the evidence which you have given, would it not?

A. Quite so; but my opinion is the exact contrary. I have been informed (I do not profess to have absolute proofs of it) on exceedingly good authority that a publisher who has published one or two of your books in the United States would think himself very hardly used if you allowed any other publisher to publish for you.

Q. I think that you will understand the point which was put in my question, which intended to convey the story of a transaction which had absolutely taken place?

A. Quite so; I quite understand that.

Q. I do not know that I need hesitate to say that the publisher was Mr. Harper, and you are aware that he is probably one of the largest publishers?

A. Yes.

Q. You also said, I think, just now incidentally, in answer to a question from Sir D. Wolff, that you were very strongly of opinion that American legislation would not give us the international copyright which we are seeking?

A. I think it exceedingly improbable. So far as I can gather the state of public opinion in America, their reply to all remonstrances is, "We want to have cheap books for our people, and we will not. listen to anything which will interfere with our having cheap books for our people."

Q. You may probably be aware that a very large body of American publishers, not, I think, including the largest houses, but still including many large houses, have advocated international copyright?

A. Yes, I am aware of it.

Q. And you perhaps are aware that, although the list of those who have done so does not contain all the larger houses, it contains by far the greatest number of those with whom we are acquainted?

A. I have understood so. I was never myself quite clear how far the movement was in earnest.

Q. T think that the house with whom you are yourself concerned, that of Messrs. Appleton, agree to it, do they not?

A. I believe so.

Q. I will not mention other names, but can I have reason for supposing that they are not in earnest, considering that they have spent considerable sums of money in advocating their cause?

A. I will not venture to say that particular gentlemen who have advocated this cause are not in earnest; very possibly they are; but it does not appear to me to be compatible with the universal cry which one hears, or which is always raised, when this question is discussed, "We want cheap books for our people, and we will have them at all costs."

Q. Are you aware that the Senate in the United States at one time assented to a proposition for an international copyright?

A. I have heard so. It is a very curious thing that whenever negotiations of that kind arise they are carried on very successfully for a time, and very admirable speeches are made upon all sides, but they always come to nothing.

Q. In our own legislation at home has it not generally been the case that great changes have been ventilated for a considerable time and have failed, and failed, and failed, until at last they have been passed?

A. Yes; that I think has generally been where there has been a great popular cry in their favor. When I visited the United States the popular cry appeared to me to be just the other way; it was for getting cheap books at all costs. I should not like to give very decided opinions upon these matters, but that is what has struck me.

Dr. Smith. If I understood you aright in reference to illustrated works you said that the cost of the original drawing, and the drawing in wood, and the engraving, must be very large, and that there are processes, by means of photography and other means, by which they could be reproduced very cheaply?

A. Yes.

Q. And consequently that if the term of copyright was materially abridged, or if another publisher was allowed to reprint them by paying ten per cent, royalty, he could reprint those works at such a very much cheaper price than that of the original edition as to render it almost impossible for a person to obtain any profit from the original edition?

A. Not only by the mere process of copying, but it stands to reason that if anybody has provided woodcuts in an extensively illustrated work, even if those woodcuts are reëxecuted in wood by the best artists, it can be done at a far less cost for a copyist than for the original publisher, because the woodcut in the original book represents not merely the labor of the wood-cutter, but the labor of an artist who has been employed before the wood-cutter to make the drawing from which the wood-cutter makes his woodcut, and in all probability many hours' labor of the person who made the dissection, or whatever it was, which is there depicted.

Chairman. Some questions, I believe, were asked you with respect to copyright in lectures?

A. Yes.

Q. Are you aware of what the practical protection afforded to lectures by the present law is?

A. I have understood that it is a very curious protection, and that you have, I think, to give notice to a justice of the peace.

Q. To two justices of the peace?

A. I should like to speak very strongly upon that point, because I myself have had occasion to feel the ill effects of the present practice. I think that it is a most iniquitous thing that a man who is admitted to a lecture should be able to print it with your name to it, and circulate it through the country with all the faults and imperfections arising out of the mode of reporting, without asking your leave or without your being able to restrain him.

Q. Having expressed the grievance which you feel, are you prepared to give the commission any suggestion as to the mode of removing that grievance?

A. I think that the simple and obvious course is to give a man absolute property in his lecture.

Q. But unless the public were informed in some way that that absolute property was given, might there not be injustice on the other side?

A. I do not think so; I think that the light of Nature ought to tell a man that he has no business to report a lecture and sell it without the permission of the person who gave the lecture. It does not require a very keen moral sense to see that that cannot be considered quite a right proceeding.

Q. But there are reporters and reporters. If a public lecture were given on a very interesting subject, I presume that the reporters of the daily press would attend; would you draw a distinction in that case between them and a reporter of another sort?

A. No; I should always make it the right of the speaker to admit reporters or not. Allow me to tell you what happened to myself. I am not complaining of it for a moment, because I knew exactly what was to be expected, and I did not care whether it happened or not; but permit me to state what happened to me in the United States the other day: I gave three lectures in New York, which had cost me a very considerable amount of trouble, and they were illustrated by diagrams, etc. I found that it was the intention of the proprietor of one of the leading papers there to send short-hand writers who would take down what I said verbatim; to send artists who would copy all the diagrams, and to print my lecture the next day in the paper in full, and not only so, but when the three lectures were completed to make them up into a sort of pamphlet and sell it, without consulting me in any way whatever. As I say, in this particular case I did not care in the least about this proceeding; and I have the less reason for complaint, as the proprietor of the paper subsequently offered me a certain share in the profits of the sale of the pamphlet; but, in principle, it appears to me to be sheer piracy.

Q. That, of course, would be under the law of the United States. Are you able to tell us what the United States law with respect to lectures is?

A. I cannot say, but the same thing might take place here if I had not given notice to two justices of the peace, or complied with whatever is the requisite formality, which is a thing I never did in my life. I fancy that in practice the same thing might be done here.

Q. If you gave a proper notice, you would have the law on your side?

A. Very few persons know of the existence of that law.

Q. Admitting the grievance to exist, as I think the commission would probably be prepared to do, in removing it might it not be well to substitute some more easy process than that of giving notice to two magistrates within five miles?

A. Certainly, one would think that there must be a great number of easier processes than that.

Q. It has been suggested by some witness that a notice put over the door, so that everybody should see it when he entered the room in which the lecture was given, that the lecture was copyright would be sufficient; would that meet your view?

A. Yes, or the same practice might be adopted as in the case of reserving the right of translation of a book; you might put on the ticket, "All rights reserved."

Dr. Smith. Supposing that the lecturer himself gave notice, at the beginning of the lecture, that he reserved to himself the right of printing it, might not that be sufficient?

A. There might be a difficulty in proving that; but if the ticket, in addition to the other matter which was on it, had printed upon it, "All rights reserved," or something of that sort, it would be a sufficient notice.

  1. Friday, April 13, 1877: Lord John Manners, M.P., in the chair. Members of the commission present, Sir Henry T. Holland, Sir John Rose, Sir H. Drummond Wolff, Edward Jenkins, Esq, M.P., Dr. William Smith, James Anthony Froude, Esq., Anthony Trollope, Esq.