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Trevelyan (Sir Charles)
UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES, SOLE RIGHT OF PRINTING
COPYRIGHT, A BILL TO CONSOLIDATE AND AMEND THE LAW RE-
"This is the very coinage of your brain."-Hamlet.
DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON defines this word as "property of an author in a literary work;" other lexicographers give it the same definition, with the words added, "for a limited term of years;" and Worcester says it is "a right given by law," as though he questioned the wisdom of the law. Dr. Johnson, elsewhere descanting on the subject of literary property, qualifies the above definition. He says—
"There seems to be in authors a stronger right of property than that by occupancy: a metaphysical right, a right as it were of creation, which should from its nature be perpetual; but the consent of nations is against it; for were it to be perpetual, no book, however useful, could be universally diffused amongst mankind, should the proprietor take it into his head to restrain its circulation. No book could have the advantage of being edited with notes, however necessary to its elucidation, should the proprietor perversely oppose it. For the general good of the world, therefore, whatever valuable book has once been created by an author, and issued out by him, should be understood as no longer in his power, but as belonging to the public; at the same time the author is entitled to an adequate reward. This he should have by an exclusive right to his work for a considerable number of years.' -Boswell's Life of Johnson.
This view of copyright, by an author of no mean repute, coupled with a liberal concession to "the general good of the world," seems to be the one taken of copyright by all countries which have yet afforded it protection. It is a view, however, which has always found powerful opponents: on the one hand, by those who maintain that copyright should be perpetual; and on the other hand, by those who from the days of Lord Camden, a hundred years ago, down to Sir T. H. Farrer, Sir Louis Mallet, and others of the present day, maintain that no property can exist in uttered thought.
The first great copyright trial was that of Millar v. Taylor,
which involved the proprietorship of the assigns of the poet Thomson in his own poems. * The next case was that of Donaldson v. Becket,† and it was in this discussion that Lord Camden delivered his famous argument against copyright.
"If there be anything in the world," says Lord Camden, common to all mankind, science and learning are in their nature publici juris, and they ought to be as free and general as air and Those great men, those favoured mortals, those sublime spirits who share that ray of divinity which we call genius, are entrusted by Providence with the delegated power of imparting to their fellow-creatures that instruction which Heaven meant for universal benefit; they must not be niggard to the world, or hoard up for themselves the common stock. . . . Knowledge to be enjoyed must be communicated. Glory is the reward of science, and those who deserve it scorn all meaner views. I speak not of the scribblers for bread, who tease the press with their wretched productions: fourteen years is too long a privilege for their perishable trash. It was not for gain that Bacon, Newton, Milton, Locke, instructed and delighted the world; it would be unworthy such men to traffic with a dirty bookseller
I pause at this climax, as it comes specially home to a publisher, to say that, brilliant as is Lord Camden's invective, his facts are not unimpeachable. In the days when copyright had no other protection than that of Common Law, Milton did" condescend to traffic" with a bookseller, whether "dirty" or not. He did not sell the copyright of Paradise Lost' for £5 as is commonly supposed. On the contrary, he retained his copyright in his own hands, selling to Simmons (or Symons, a printer of Aldersgate Street,) the right to print 1300 copies; £5 to be paid down immediately, and another £5 when that number was sold. These 1300 of the first 4to edition were issued in nine different impressions (varying in small particulars) between 1667 and 1669. He had a like sum for the second edition, which was in 8vo, and which was not called for till 1674 (seven years after the first was printed), and he did
* The copyright by the statute had expired. The issue raised was, whether a right of property therein was still given by the Common Law. Lord Mansfield decided in favour of the plaintiff, thus confirming this right.
↑ In this case Lord Mansfield's decision was reversed, and it was affirmed that Common Law Copyright was taken away by the statute of Anne.