HC Deb 08 April 1818 vol 37 cc1213-9

Lord Althorp presented a Petition from certain persons, the Authors and Composers of Books; setting forth,

"That the Petitioners, observing that notice has been given in the House, and their leave obtained, to bring in a bill to amend the statute passed in the 54th of his majesty, which enacted the delivery of 11 copies of all books printed and published after the passing of that act to the eleven libraries or public bodies therein mentioned, request the permission of' the House to state their view of the grievances which this compulsory delivery has produced, and to solicit such relief as to their wisdom shall seem most expedient; the petitioners humbly submit, that by the common law of this country, and by the decision of its highest court of judicature, as well as by the principles of natural equity, and by the analogy of every other species of property, they would have had, if no statute had passed on the subject, an exclusive right to the copyright of their several works, and to all the benefit and produce arising from their sale, as every other subject of this kingdom enjoys as to all his effects and possessions; but the legislature of this kingdom having formerly thought it right to limit the enjoyment of this species of property, has now extended that limitation to the term of 28 years, or of the author's life if he should survive that time; the petitioners are grateful to the equity of parliament for this extension, and only regret that it was accompanied by the enactment that eleven copies of all publications should be delivered on demand for the eleven libraries mentioned in the said act; the petitioners submit that the equitable right of the said libraries to these copies is quite distinct from the right of authors as to their copyright, the delivery of these copies rests merely on the enactment of the statutes on that subject, and is founded upon no previous right, for, as to the ancient contract alluded to between sir Thomas Boclley and the Stationers Company in 1609, it was an engagement between those two contracting parties for reciprocal objects then in view, which do not now subsist, and binding only themselves, and confined to only one of the said libraries; but can by no construction of law, or rule of equity, be justly extended to the petitioners, and the authors in modern times, who have no connexion either with the Bodleian library or the Stationers Company; the petitioners therefore submit, that this compulsory delivery is unjust in its principle, as it invades the great rules of law and policy which assure to every one the unmolested enjoyment of the produce of his labour and acquired property; and that it has this additional objection, that although every publication is not under the same circumstances of expense, circulation, or importance, yet the compulsory delivery is imposed without discrimination on all; the petitioners believe that it operates materially to the injury of authors, and to the discouragement of future publications; the petitioners cannot change the established custom of the printing profession of charging for printing any number less than 250 the price of printing 250; and therefore, to print eleven copies beyond any regular number incurs the charge of printing 250, and to deliver eleven copies out of the regular number printed of any work is a subtraction from the petitioners and their assigns of the whole trade sale price of those eleven copies when the impression sells, and if the impression should not sell, yet the petitioners are aggrieved by the loss of the amount of the paper, and printing of so many copies; and they submit, that if this amount be in some cases not large, yet it is considerable in the aggregate of the whole quantity demanded, and no law of any country has made the amount of any property the measure or the standard of right and justice respecting it, the smallest quantity of value is protected to every one as much as the greatest, the legal right is the same whatever be the pecuniary amount, and all penal codes for the preservation of property, are founded on this natural principle, so essential to the general welfare of society; as far as the petitioners can judge, the delivery of these copies also operates to injure the sale of many books; it not only takes away the eleven libraries as purchasers of those which they demand, but, by the books being deposited in so many public libraries in the three great metropolitan cities, and the principal universities and libraries of of these kingdoms, it enables a great many individuals to gratify their curiosity without purchasing the publication, and such members are satisfied with a temporary perusal of works daily issuing from the press; and the petitioners believe that the sale of several useful publications has been thereby greatly lessened; the petitioners are also satisfied that it makes the booksellers more averse to undertake the publication of expensive and of many important works; the price of the eleven copies taken away now becomes a material object of their calculation, and some have, on that account, declined the risk of publishing; the delivery also leads the booksellers to diminish the compensation to authors for their copyright in works where popularity is not certain, which is the case with most, and especially books of labour and expense, and as far as it operates to increase the price, it tends thereby to injure the sale; it prevents authors from receiving from their booksellers so many copies as they wish to give to their friends, and therefore it-is a deduction of so much from the general produce and benefit of literature, which are already sufficiently uncertain, and in the great majority of instances exceedingly scanty; the petitioners are therefore decidedly of opinion, that the continuation of the demand and delivery of these copies without some modification, will discourage the future composition and publication of works; many valuable works are every year composed of great importance to science and learning, which from their expensive nature cannot be published unless booksellers can be found who will undertake the risk of the publication; but the petitioners are informed that the necessity of delivering these copies has occasioned some booksellers to decline the publication of some useful works whose sale was precarious; many authors are now projecting expensive works which the burthen of the delivery prevents them from undertaking, and the petitioners are satisfied that it will operate hereafter to prevent such works from being undertaken at all; the petitioners humbly submit, that in this great commercial and wealthy country, reputation alone cannot be a sufficient stimulus to authors to compose or publish valuable works, and more especially those which involve much expense; the affluence of the country operates not only to make the annual expenditure for subsistence considerable, but also to enhance the charges of every publication; the same prosperity, of the country leading to costly habits of living, prevents men of literary reputation from holding the same rank in this country that it obtains in some others; justice also to the family who have to derive their nurture and respectability from the paternal labours, compels the parent to devote some portion of his attention to pecuniary considerations; hence an author can rarely write for fame alone; and every subtraction from his profit, and every measure that will diminish his ardour to prepare, and the readiness of booksellers to publish his work, especially as so many require such large sums to be expended and risked upon them, is an injury not only to authors, but to literature itself; the petitioners submit, that there never was a period in the history of the world, in Which the people of every country have been more strongly emulous of each other, in scientific and literary attainments, than they are at this moment; and not only great national celebrity arises from superior excellence in works of art and literature, but it may be considered to be equally true, that whatever discourages or obstructs the progress of literature, in any country, will produce in time a national inferiority, and those political effects will be severely felt, when they will be with much difficulty remedied; the petitioners have been surprised to find, by the return of the list of publications entered at Stationers-hall, which has been laid on the table of the House, that copies of all that have been entered have been indiscriminately demanded by the said eleven libraries, with the single exception that two of them, and two of them only, namely, the Advocates Library and Trinity College, Dublin, have not demanded music: and novels; the petitioners have remarked this fact with astonishment and regret; that all the promiscuous medley of modern publications should be incorporated with the important works that were formerly deposited in these libraries, and should there be open to the perusal of the most distinguished and most lively youthful minds of this empire, whose judgments have to be correctly formed, and should be there transmitted with all their sanction to posterity, seems to the petitioners to be incompatible with the objects and policy of those venerable institutions: if they be demanded and not deposited, then authors and publishers are burthened unnecessarily; and if all be deposited and read, the petitioners think, that if it be recollected how many multifarious theories; speculations, discussions, and doubts, are daily arising in society, and daily investigated in public by the press, an indiscriminate demand and compulsory delivery of every publication, must tend to lead the impressible minds of the educating youth (who cannot have yet attained that solid judgment which time alone can create), to imbibe and nourish whatever spirit of change, desire of novelty, or projects of innovation, the conversations and incidents of the day may excite; without this delivery, no publication is purchased till it is wanted, and the expense of the purchase diminishes curiosity; but the delivery brings before the eyes of the educating youth of this country, and their instructors, books that they would not else have noticed, and perhaps not have heard of, books often highly useful and important in themselves, but not advan- tageous to the young and inexperienced mind; the petitioners respectfully submit, that it is of the highest importance to the interests of our venerable universities, and the other valuable seats of knowledge and learning, that the utmost harmony of feeling should be established and perpetuated between these respected institutions and the intelligent minds that now abound and are increasing in the British community; but the petitioners feel that this promiscuous demand and delivery tends to diminish this desirable harmony, because it creates a sense of grievance on the one side, unmitigated by any perception of a public good resulting from its continuance: and the petitioners are informed, that in no country of Europe, nor in America, are so many copies taken from authors and publishers as by the enactment above mentioned, although in those countries much larger editions are printed and sold than can be disposed of in this kingdom; books are also printed abroad at so much less expense than in Great Britain, that the petitioners are apprehensive many works will be lost to this nation by being printed and circulated exclusively elsewhere; the petitioners therefore most humbly pray, that by the bill now before the House on this subject, such relief as to their wisdom shall seem most expedient may be granted to the petitioners, cither by lessening the number of copies to be delivered, or by some regulation that will make it expedient for the libraries not to demand, indiscriminately, all publications, and therefore to contribute some such portion of the price of the books they may demand, as to the House shall seem equitable, or that the House will be pleased to grant the petitioners such further or other relief on the subject, as to them shall be deemed most fitting."

Mr. J. H. Smith

said, that strong prejudices prevailed upon the subject, some of which he believed to be unfounded. The signatures of many respectable men now appeared to petitions, though the same persons were totally silent upon the subject in 1814, when it obtained a very full discussion. The bill passed at that time conferred many important privileges upon publishers and authors which it was expected would indemnify them for the loss they considered themselves liable to by the copies which were required to be delivered to the universities. He hoped the bill now before the House upon the subject of copyright would not be pressed forward too hastily, but that the subject would meet with the attention which its importance merited.

Mr. Gurney

said, that in many cases the inconvenience to authors and publishers was very great, in consequence of the number of copies with which they were bound to furnish the universities. This in-convenience was particularly felt when the work was expensive. Mr. Lysons was then publishing a work the price of which would be 60 guineas, so that before he could derive the least profit from the sale of it it would be incumbent on him to send copies to the universities amounting to 660 guineas.

The petitions were ordered to lie on the table, and to be printed; as were also petitions on the same subject from Mr. Cooke, and Mr. Daniell, engravers, and from the rev. Rogers Ruding, author of Annals of the coinage of Great Britain and its dependencies."