HC Deb 22 June 1808 vol 11 cc988-93

Mr. Villiers moved the order of the day, for the house to resolve itself into a committee, upon the bill for the further encouragement of learning in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, by securing to the Libraries of the Universities, and other Public Libraries, Copies of all newly-printed books, and books reprinted with additions; and by further securing the copies and copyright of printed books to the authors of such books, or their assigns, for a time to be limited.

Mr. C. Wynne

should not object to the motion, if the bill was to go into a committee, on an understanding that it was merely for filling up the blanks, in order to afford time to the public and the parties concerned to judge how far it might be desirable for their interest, that the bill should pass. He thought that the time ought to be extended within which the copyright should be preserved to the author. This time, he was of opinion, ought to be 28 years, as also, that no author should be allowed to dispose of his copyright for more than 14 years. As to the other part of the bill, requiring that a copy of each work to be published should be sent to the public libraries, the booksellers who were the largest publishers, felt it would be so injurious to their interests, that they had prepared a petition against that part of it, which he expected would be ready to present in the course of the evening. He put it therefore to the hon. gent, whether it would not be more desirable to let the bill lie over till next session, in order that all parties may have time to consider of its provisions.

Mr. Villiers

replied, that the principle of the bill was not new, as the universities were already entitled to copies of all works that shall be published; and it could not be denied, that this circumstance was favourable to learning, as thereby students in the universities would be enabled to consult books which otherwise they would be unable to purchase. Copyrights were at present protected to the extent of 28 years in two different periods. But the consequence was, that in works requiring time to mature them, the author could not derive from them one half of the advantages that were enjoyed by the authors of the lightest productions. The object of the bill was to remedy this evil.

Mr. Abercromby

concurred with his hon. and learned friend, in requesting the hon. mover not to press the bill at this late period of the session, because many of the booksellers of Scotland, and some of those of Ireland, whose interests would be materially affected by the bill, had not any knowledge of its provisions.

The house then resolved itself into the committee, Mr. Wharton in the chair. The blanks were filled up, and a clause introduced for extending the provisions of the bill to oriental works, after which the house resumed, and the report was immediately received, when

The Attorney General

proposed that the bill be recommitted, and an instruction be given to the committee to divide the bill, in order that the part which provides for the protection of the authors might be passed now, and the other might lie over for consideration, though he did not think there was much weight in the objections made to that part which required that a copy of every new publication should be supplied to all libraries open to the public. This would not be a hardship to authors, because this was what was required of them by the 8th of Anne, in return for the advantage they derived from the copy- right secured to them by that act.—On the question that the bill be recommitted,

Mr. C. Wynne,

after stating his several objections to the bill, moved that the further consideration of the report be postponed until this day three months.

Lord H. Petty

agreed in the proposition of the attorney general. He thought that the present criterion of the duration of the author's copyright was a very fallacious one; namely, the life of the author; and required much consideration. But as to the other part of the bill, which required the delivery of a copy of each work to be published, to every library open to the public, it was only to carry into effect the spirit of the act of the 8th of Anne. He therefore thought that the bill ought to be separated, in order that this latter part should be passed, whilst the more delicate and difficult part should be suffered to lie over till next session.

Sir S. Romilly

regretted that it was now proposed to pass that part of the measure which was the most objectionable, or rather the only objectionable part of it. The system of copyright established in this country, made the public, instead of any individual, the patrons of literature; and this, with a view to independence of sentiment, and just thinking, was an inestimable advantage. It was certainly highly expedient that the libraries of the different Universities should be properly provided with books; but he was astonished that it should be proposed to lay a tax upon authors for that purpose, which the public at large did not bear. There were many works which cost 50 guineas a copy; and was it not monstrous that the authors and publishers should be taxed to the amount of 550 guineas, by being obliged to give away eleven copies? The fact was, that such works, from the expence attending them, were in no danger of being pirated, no person being able to enter into competition with them, or to deprive them of the benefit of copyright therein. It was for the interest of the public that the Universities should be supplied with books; but let that be done at the expence of the public, and not of individual authors. There were other works, however, of great sale and merit, though cheap, to which the contribution of eleven copies would be easy; but he should certainly propose, that expensive works, where the publisher was not anxious about their copyright, should be exempted from this contribution.

The Attorney General

said, he had no objection to a clause making such a distinction.

The Solicitor General

saw no reason for delaying any part of the bill, and contended that the bill was only a confirmation of the act of queen Anne, which had not been acted upon of late years, in consequence of a doubt being suggested in point of form, as to the efficacy of the act itself.

Mr. Stephens

observed that the bill, as it first stood, embracing both objects, was unobjectionable. But he contended that, if it were to be divided, it would be objectionable in point of precedent, because it would separate the provision for the authors and for the universities, which had been jointly secured in former acts. He was of opinion, however, that the author had, at common law, an unlimited copyright, which was restrained by the 8th of Anne. But it appeared to him that the notoriety which would arise to works from copies being given to the universities, would be an equivalent to the author for the copies he should deliver to such institutions.

Mr. Villiers

stated that it was with extreme reluctance he consented to the separation of the bill; but, as he could not put his opinion in opposition to the authority upon which that proposition was made, he felt inclined to accede to it; at the same time, he gave notice that, at an early period of next session, he should move for leave to bring in a bill similar to that which was now to be divided.—The bill was then ordered to be recommitted; and an instruction having been voted to the committee for dividing the bill, the house resolved into the committee.

Mr. W. Smith

stated his objections to the further progress of this bill at this late period of the session; and therefore moved that the chairman do now leave the chair.

A short discussion then took place, in which Mr. Leycester, Dr. Laurence, the Attorney General, Mr. W. Smith, and Mr. C. Wynne, participated; after which the Attorney General declared, that upon consideration, he was inclined to think it would be better to proceed with the whole of the bill without any division, because it would certainly be desirable that the burden should be imposed by the same measure that was to confer the benefit. He hoped, therefore, that the amendment suggested by his learned friend (sir S. Romilly) would obviate the principal objections to the bill.—Mr. C. Wynne, and Mr. W. Smith, repeated their objections to proceeding further with the bill at this late period of the session, contending that it would not be decent to pass such a measure without affording an opportunity to the booksellers, particularly in Ireiand, to be heard on the subject.

Mr. Morris

contended, that the measure would not at all affect the booksellers or publishers, because it was to apply only to future publications, and those persons would in their bargains with the authors indemnify themselves for any number of copies which they might be required under this act to deliver into the universities and other public institutions.

On the motion of the Attorney General, it was agreed that those who wished to waive their copyright; should not be obliged to give the copies of publications required by the bill; and it was also provided that those who did not give the copies required, should have no copyright.

Mr. Abercromby

contended that the public curiosity would be more earnest by abridging the period of copyright; he proposed to limit it to 20 years, instead of 28.

Mr. Morris

insisted, that the term of 28 years was not too much for a just copyright. He cited the cases of Dr. Adam Smith's works, and Dr. Johnson's dictionary, to prove that most valuable works were not properly estimated till they had gone through many editions, and had been long before the public. He therefore thought an extended term of copyright was desirable.

Sir A. Piggott

thought the present period of the session too late for the agitation of this subject. He thought eleven copies too many to require, and that when no complaint was made on the part of authors, of booksellers, or the public, it was unnecessary to alter the law as it stood.

Mr. Leycester

defended the proposition of the attorney general, which was agreed to.

Mr. C. Wynne

proposed to render the supply of copies to the Universities obligatory only when called for. On explanation this difficulty was removed.

Some further conversation took place on the provision to secure the best impressions of every work to the public libraries. It was agreed that the copies so given should be on the best paper on which the work should be printed for the general purposes of sale.—The house having resumed, the report was received, and ordered to be taken into further consideration on Friday.