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Literary Copyright
by [?]

The situation is full of complications. Theoretically it is the interest of both parties to sell as many books as possible. But the author has an interest in one book, the publisher in a hundred. And it is natural and reasonable that the man who risks his money should be the judge of the policy best for his whole establishment. I cannot but think that this situation would be on a juster footing all round if the author returned to the old practice of limiting the use of his property by the publisher. I say this in full recognition of the fact that the publishers might be unwilling to make temporary investments, or to take risks. What then? Fewer books might be published. Less vanity might be gratified. Less money might be risked in experiments upon the public, and more might be made by distributing good literature. Would the public be injured? It is an idea already discredited that the world owes a living to everybody who thinks he can write, and it is a superstition already fading that capital which exploits literature as a trade acquires any special privileges.

The present international copyright, which primarily concerns itself with the manufacture of books, rests upon an unintelligible protective tariff basis. It should rest primarily upon an acknowledgment of the author’s right of property in his own work, the same universal right that he has in any other personal property. The author’s international copyright should be no more hampered by restrictions and encumbrances than his national copyright. Whatever regulations the government may make for the protection of manufactures, or trade industries, or for purposes of revenue on importations, they should not be confounded with the author’s right of property. They have no business in an international copyright act, agreement, or treaty. The United States copyright for native authors contains no manufacturing restrictions. All we ask is that foreign authors shall enjoy the same privileges we have under our law, and that foreign nations shall give our authors the privileges of their local copyright laws. I do not know any American author of any standing who has ever asked or desired protection against foreign authors.

This subject is so important that I may be permitted to enlarge upon it, in order to make clear suggestions already made, and to array again arguments more or less familiar. I do this in the view of bringing before the institute work worthy of its best efforts, which if successful will entitle this body to the gratitude and respect of the country. I refer to the speedy revision of our confused and wholly inadequate American copyright laws, and later on to a readjustment of our international relations.

In the first place let me bring to your attention what is, to the vast body of authors, a subject of vital interest, which it is not too much to say has never received that treatment from authors themselves which its importance demands. I refer to the property of authors in their productions. In this brief space and time I cannot enter fully upon this great subject, but must be content to offer certain suggestions for your consideration.

The property of an author in the product of his mental labor ought to be as absolute and unlimited as his property in the product of his physical labor. It seems to me idle to say that the two kinds of labor products are so dissimilar that the ownership cannot be protected by like laws. In this age of enlightenment such a proposition is absurd. The history of copyright law seems to show that the treatment of property in brain product has been based on this erroneous idea. To steal the paper on which an author has put his brain work into visible, tangible form is in all lands a crime, larceny, but to steal the brain work is not a crime. The utmost extent to which our enlightened American legislators, at almost the end of the nineteenth century, have gone in protecting products of the brain has been to give the author power to sue in civil courts, at large expense, the offender who has taken and sold his property.