Friday, December 25, 2015

Charles Dickens and Copyright Law by Frederic George Kitton 1902

Charles Dickens and Copyright Law by Frederic George Kitton 1902

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Although Dickens went to America with no particular mission, yet it was during this visit in 1842 he began his agitation of the great International Copyright question, which still remains in abeyance. Besides presenting two petitions to American Congress, he referred to the matter publicly, both at Boston and Hartford, and was astonished to find that his remarks were received with great resentment in certain quarters; but he had the assurance of the more intellectual class of the community (men like Washington Irving, Bryant, Halleck, and Dana, who were devoted to the cause) that, if only at once followed up in England, a change in the law might be effected. Directly after the delivery of his second speech on this vexed question he was inundated daily with anonymous letters and verbal dissuasions while newspapers attacked him without mercy asserting that he was "no gentleman, but a mere mercenary scoundrel"!

The Novelist, who claimed to be one of the principal sufferers at the hands of piratical publishers, considered that the effect of the copyright agitation which he thus originated had been at least "to awaken a great sensation on both sides of the subject." "I have lighted up such a blaze," he wrote from New York, "that a meeting of the foremost people on the other side . . . was held in this town 'tother night. And it would be a thousand pities if we did not strike as hard as we can, now that the iron is hot." Carlyle, who had heard of the Novelist's public advocacy of International Copyright, strengthened his hands by an encouraging letter warmly supporting his views, for which Dickens felt extremely grateful. "The greatest men in England," he informed his brother-in-law, Henry Austin, "have sent me out, through Forster, a very manly, and becoming, and spirited memorial and address, backing me in all I have done. I have despatched it to Boston for publication, and am coolly prepared for the storm it will raise. But my best rod is in pickle." His earnest pleading on behalf of the good cause unhappily proved ineffectual; at a public meeting held in Boston (the very centre of literary activity in America), a memorial against any change of the law was adopted, in the course of which it was stated (as Forster explains) that if English authors were invested with any control over the republication of their own books, it would be no longer possible for American editors to alter and adapt them to the American taste. Dickens, feeling naturally indignant and disappointed at the impotent result of his efforts, saw the hopelessness of pursuing the topic further in America, but determined, on his return to England, to endeavour to gain the object in view by other methods. In a letter (half serious and half humorous) addressed to Forster from Niagara Falls, he temporarily dismissed the subject, summing up the position by declaring that, in America, there were two obstacles to the passing of an International Copyright law with England, viz., "the national love of 'doing' a man in any bargain or matter of business," and "the national vanity." "Both these characteristics," he observed, "prevail to an extent which no stranger can possibly estimate."
End of Charles Dickens and Copyright Law by Frederic George Kitton 1902

A Modern Rebuttal: "In the 19th century, Charles Dickens earned more royalties from the sale of books in the US, where he had no copyright protection, than in England, where he did..."

Dickens was actually paid royalties by three American publishers, if not by the ones that printed unauthorized editions.

Also: In the realm of serious music, many of the great composers' works were never protected by copyright. England began protecting musical compositions with copyright in 1777, yet relatively few composers lived or worked in England after that time, despite England's relative prosperity overall. Beethoven, for one, lived in Germany, which offered no copyright protection, yet he made enough money to survive and felt sufficiently motivated to create some of the greatest musical works ever.[19] Like Shakespeare, pre-IP composers were able to draw on previous composers' works and alter and adapt them freely. Today, that requires permission from copyright holders that may or may not be granted.

“For one thing, there are many “inventions” that are not patentable. The “inventor” of the supermarket, for example, conferred great benefits on his fellowmen for which he could not charge them. Insofar as the same kind of ability is required for the one kind of invention as for the other, the existence of patents tends to divert activity to patentable inventions.” — Milton Friedman

“Copying isn’t theft, and it isn’t piracy. It’s what we did for millennia until the invention of copyright, and we can do it again, if we don’t hobble ourselves with the antiquated remnants of a censorship system from the sixteenth century.” — Karl Fogel

“Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that "plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernal, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men — but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.“ – Mark Twain, letter to Helen Keller, after she had been accused of plagiarism for one of her early stories (17 March 1903), published in Mark Twain’s Letters, Vol. 1 (1917) edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, p. 731.

"Shakespeare lived before there were any copyright laws in England...Shakespeare proves that copyright is not an absolute necessity for supporting the arts...Shakespeare was, himself, a pirate (in Turow’s sense), basing most of his best known plays on materials that he borrowed from others and reworked.  If Boccaccio, or Spenser, or Holinshed had held a copyright in the modern sense in their works, Shakespeare’s productions could have been stopped by the courts (as unauthorized derivative works).  This is not an unfamiliar point; most schoolchildren are taught that Shakespeare borrowed his stories.

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