the first place, copyright, clearly enough, is merely
a convention on the part of a civilized community to
recognize a writer's ownership on the product of his
own labour. "Yes," says the community, "we
will agree to allow you to enjoy the fruit of your toil
for a certain time. If you will be at pains to undergo
certain formalities of registration and the like, we
will protect you from robbery for a term of years. During
that time no one but you of your chosen agents shall
have any right to print or sell your work; and you may
dispose of it in an open market like any other estimable
means, of course, that the work of the writers has an
actual value to any nation, state, kingdom or commonwealth.
It is something that the people at large appreciate,
and will buy for a fair price. It is an appreciable
result of labour, subject to the laws of demand and
supply, like any other commercial output.
am overlooking for the present the purely artistic value
of literature. In a sense literature, and indeed all
art, is entirely and wholly dependent of the law of
supply and demand as generally understood. It is the
fine play of genius in expression; it is the inmost
human heart finding vent for its smothered feelings
and aspirations in words. What Browning or Carlyle thought
about life, that he must say and nothing else. The criticism
of life that one finds in the pages of Mr. Meredith
is the product of our own day, truly enough, but it
is influenced by the size of his public in their predilections,
absolutely not one jot. And this is true of all art.
It is born of the pure joy of creation, never for any
extraneous need. The direct influence of commercialism
upon art is always a baleful influence, and in the nature
of the case must necessarily be so. The artist with
his work has no more to do with the law of supply and
demand than the bee with its honey. Let that be admitted
are not, however, considering art and literature in
that relation now. We are considering literature after
its genesis. Given the finished work in letters, what's
become of it? Evidently it takes its place beside the
apples and onions and other good things of life in the
huckster's cart. We have agreed to concede in each man
(and in some cases to each woman) the right of possession
in property, in personal property and in real estate.
All right of possession is derived from this consensus
and concession. I may say to you that I have a right
to anything I make with my hands or cause to grow from
the ground, that I have a right to the result of my
own labor. Yes, true; but that right would not be worth
a minute's tenure without the consent of my fellows.
Mutually we are agreed that we will not rob one another.
It saves trouble to make this understanding thorough
and paramount. This is the foundation of individual
on the other hand, we allow ourselves to experiment
in socialism-socialism pure and simple. The free school
system is unmitigated socialism. The state puts its
hand in the pocket of the childless rich to pay for
the education of the numberless children of the poor.
What becomes of your individual liberty in that case?
It has been wiped out. We are agreed that that much
socialism is a good thing. The individual has not redress
against the appropriation.
state, then, recognizes right to private property. It
I paint a picture or fashion a piece of silver these
things are allowed to belong to me. I own them in perpetuity.
They are possessions; they are valuable possessions,
too, perhaps. And yet the intrinsic worth of the metal
and the canvas is slight. What gives them their unique
value? Evidently my skill and talent as an artist, nothing
more. People recognize the fact that I have exceptional
ability as a silversmith or a painter, and the work
of my hand has worth accordingly. I am granted right
of property in these creations of mine in perpetuity.
Now, if I write you a novel, how does my case differ?
It doesn't differ at all. My inherent, intrinsic, logical
right to the property value in that book is exactly
the same as my right of property in the picture or the
silver ornament. By all parity of reasoning, that right
should be perpetual.
say that for the good of the community in time my right
to possession of that property should lapse, should
pass into the hands of the state for the freer benefit
of all. Very well, I cannot deny you. Your will is paramount.
I only hold any tenure at all by your permission. But
I say that if I am only to be allowed to enjoy the fruit
of my labor for forty-odd years, the painter should
not be allowed to enjoy his a day longer. If I may hold
my copyright for such and such term of years and at
the end of that time must give my work to the state
for nothing, then the painter should be permitted to
keep his painting only for the same time, and after
that it should revert to the commonwealth and be stored
in a public museum for the public good. Yes, and more
than that, the term of copyright should be longer than
the term of possession allowed to other artists for
the literary product has not value except its
copyright value; it cannot be enjoyed exclusively as
a picture can.
we are not to have perpetual copyright, very well, then,
let us have a socialistic distribution of property.
And let the others begin, whose property is already
must bear clearly in mind this fact that the granting
of copyright is not the granting of a monopoly, but
merely a guarantee of property. There ought really to
be no need of any copyrighting process; every piece
of writing ought to be recognized as private property
the moment it is written, and it ought to be a criminal
offense to print that piece of writing without the leave
of the writer. Some day we shall arrive at that degree
of common honesty. Only a few years ago the theft of
books was legal in the United States. And we continue
to steal them now whenever we can catch the author napping.
is argued, too, that the term of patents is even far
shorter than that of copyright. There is this difference,
however. It is always possible that a patent may become
absolutely essential to the life of the world, and to
leave its control in private hands would imperil the
state. Think what might happen for instance, if patents
were perpetual and the electric telegraph throughout
the world were in the hands of a single representative
of the Morse family to-day. He could paralyze the earth
with a turn of his finger. But literary property can
never become so essentially important to the state as
are those who think that an author should be permitted
to enjoy his copyright, but that we are not called upon
to allow his grandchildren to enjoy it. They forget
that the present value of a literary production increases
in proportion to the length of the copyright term. If
I can sell you a piece of absolute property, certainly
you will give me more for it than if than if I could
only sell you the right to enjoy if for a period of
copyright is the only just copyright. But if we cannot
be absolutely honest, let us be as honest as we can.
Let us have a copyright for life and fifty years after,
at the very least.