HC Deb 05 February 1840 vol 51 cc1262-71
Mr. Emerson Tennent

moved the second reading of the Copyright Designs Bill, which extended the copyright to designs upon woven fabrics from three months to twelve. It was not the object of the bill to introduce any new principle into the law, but simply to give efficiency to a principle which the existing law already recognized and professed to provide for, but which in the lapse of time had become utterly nugatory. The act which first proposed to secure to the inventors of original designs the profits of their own labours was passed in 1787, and limited the protection to two months. This Act was renewed from time to time, but at length, in 1794, it was made perpetual, and the term of protection extended to three months, at which point it had remained unaltered up to the present. But during the forty or fifty years that had intervened many circumstances had concurred to render that which was then an effectual protection, merely a nominal and a deceptive one; amongst which, as the most prominent, may be noticed the application of steam navigation, thereby placing the foreign market almost upon a par with the home as regards priority in design; and the improvements in engraving and printing, which had nearly quadrupled the facilities for the rapid re-production of any pattern, he was, in fact, within the mark, when he stated, that from 150 to 200 pieces of goods could now be produced in one day, by the improved process, when not more than 15 to 20 could have been printed by the old machinery of some thirty years ago. And such was the rapidity with which designs could now be copied and re-produced, that in one very recent instance, the patterns of one eminent house in the city, of their style of dresses for the season, having been surreptitiously obtained by another establishment a few days before publication, rival articles were within eight days announced for sale in imitation of them, and at a much lower cost than those of the original inventor. Nor does the evil complained of, as arising from the present brief term, consist merely in this, that it is too short a period within which a designer could be repaid by ordinary sales for his outlay and investment; but the injury lies here, that parties willing to purchase were still deterred from giving extensive orders for original designs during the three months of protection, conscious that in a very few weeks, on the expiration of the term, and before the demand had ceased, they could be plentifully supplied with the cheaper imitations. Besides the very custom of the trade had a tendency to give those who existed by copying the designs of others, a facility for that purpose, which in effect reduced the term of protection even below the scanty limit of three months, inasmuch as it was necessary one month at least before a season opened (say in the month of January previous to the stormy season, which commences in February), to deliver to the warehouseman a book of the patterns prepared and ready for delivery, in order that his riders might exhibit them to his customers, and thus enable him to compute the extent of his orders. Now, not only was it a question whether the delivery of the patterns was not a "publication" in the eye of the law, thus fixing the date from which the three months' protection was to be computed, and, therefore, diminishing the term within which the goods were protected in the market from three months to two; but it gave to the intending copyist a full month to prepare his imitations for subsequent sale. So that, in no one respect would the present term, short and ill-defined as it is, be regarded as adequate protection and security which the law holds out and professes to provide. But it so happened that, at the present moment, the protection sought, at least by one most important branch of the trade—the calico printers—was less required for the home market than for the foreign trade; and it is one peculiar feature of the case, which strongly recommends copyrights of this description to a more summary protection than those of literature or the higher branches of art, which were of a permanent and fixed value—comparatively—that the taste which constituted the value of these designs for printed goods was perpetually fluctuating, and that their owners had no better security for their property than the proverbially fickle one of the fashion of the day. Now, it so happened, that just now, by one of those capricious fluctuations, woollens and silks were almost exclusively in demand for the home market, so that calicoes and printed cottons were manufactured almost entirely for the American and West Indian trade; and the House would readily perceive how utterly inadequate the term of three months was, to give protection to a branch of manufacture carried on at so vast a distance. In the first place, the tastes of the two countries were so distinct, that goods for the colonies must always be prepared from designs totally distinct from those intended for home consumption, a process of great labour, expense and delay; three or four designs being, perhaps, selected from 100 or more which were laid aside, and after being reduced to scale, would require from two to three months to engrave and complete, before one single piece could be ready for delivery. When ready the goods were shipped for the West Indies, a book of patterns being first handed to the shipping merchant by the manufacturer. And now let the House look at the practical effect of a short term of copyright; before a single course of post from Jamaica could bring a repetition of the order, the copyright had expired; the patterns in the meantime had been copied from the pattern books deposited with the English exporter, and he had goods in imitation of them ready for exportation, of inferior quality no doubt, but likewise at an inferior price from the diminished cost of production; or, perhaps these very imitations were already shipped, in the confidence that they would arrive in the West Indies just about the time that copyrights of the original had been exhausted. The original proprietor of course never received a second order; and for two reasons, first, because he could not afford to sell at so low a price as the imitator, who was at no expense for designs, which he obtained by means of a sheet of tracing paper, and who had infinitely less expense for engraving his patterns, being already reduced to scale, and ready for transferring to the copper-roller; and, secondly, because the cheap imitation destroyed the positive value of the more elegant original, and put an immediate check upon the sale; and, again, from the same consideration which operated on the home trade, the foreign purchaser would not, in the first instance, give any extensive order, from his knowledge of the prevalence of piracy, and of the certainty of his speedily obtaining the copies at much reduced prices. In the American trade a similar difficulty existed, and an equal injustice was sustained, with this aggravation, that the tastes of that country and this being nearly similar, and their seasons of trade simultaneous, the patterns must be earlier dispatched across the Atlantic, and of course the risk of their being intercepted and copied in England must be increased. Besides, had the original designer a sufficient protection from the home market, so as to insure him an adequate compensation there, the fact of his being enabled to produce goods for two markets from one set of designs, would enable him so to reduce his American price, as to augment and retain his export trade, whilst owing to the present unprotected condition of the trade, even the home market, as he had already shown, was curtailed in its fair extent of orders, by an apprehension of piracy, both in England and from copies transmitted across the Atlantic. He had thus endeavoured to show that neither for the home trade, nor the colonial and the American market, did the existing law hold out a fair and sufficient protection, and that it was indispensable that it should be immediately amended by an extension. The principle of protection had already been recognised by the law for nearly half a century; but, owing to the change of circumstances within that period, it had now become merely deceptive and delusive, and his object in this bill was to render it 'real and efficient. If, instead of being mere copyists in the arts of design, this country was to maintain the lead which she had hitherto taken in manufactures, this amendment of the law was indispensable. No prudent man, in the present state of the law, would go to the expense of employing original artists at high salaries, conscious that his designs were to be almost immediately invaded and appropriated by a host of copyists; and parents would not send their children to learn the business of original designers, if they were informed that pirates and imitators, who lived upon the inventions of others, were to be permitted to shut them out from a chance of employment. Under such circumstances our school of design must perish; and we must be contented in this branch of trade to be mere copyists of the French, and other nations, who give an adequate protection to enterprise and original talent. So important was this subject, that it was brought, under the consideration of the House last year, in two bills, by the late President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Poulett Thomson). By one, he extended the present protection of three months to silks and woollens, which were totally unprotected before (another instance of the necessity of suiting these laws to the circumstances of the times, for neither silks nor woollens were printed in England when the original law was passed, whilst the printing of linens, which was then common and protected by the act, was now absolutely obsolete and unknown;) and, by the other bill, Mr. Thomson gave to all other fabrics except these, the very term of protection which he now wished to confer upon the entire, namely, twelve months. In fact, Mr. Thomson's bill went so far as to give some articles a protection of three years, which would be as much too long a period, however, for woven fabrics, as three months had been found to be too little. But he could not see why room papers, oil cloths, and other inferior articles, were to have a twelve-month's protection, and the most valuable of our manufactures, silks, challis, and cachmeres were to have a lesser term. In every communication he had had with the printers of Lancashire, of Scotland, and of Ireland, they all concurred that twelve months would be the very lowest term which would afford them an adequate security, and render the protection promised and held out by the law a reality instead of a delusion. With this view he had so framed the bill, and he hoped the House, admitting its justice, would give its sanction to its enactment.

Mr. Mackinnon

rose for the purpose of supporting the motion of his hon. Friend. He would strongly recommend to her Majesty's Government the advantages of introducing a general and comprehensive measure on the present subject; and lie would recommend them also to bring in a bill for the purpose of having designs and patterns registered at a small expense, and for having them afterwards exposed in a national gallery erected for the purpose. This would be a great advantage both to the public and to modellers of designs, who would have an opportunity of seeing those works in the gallery. He believed, too, that the small sums paid for registering these works would meet the expenses of erecting the building. He should support the bill on the principle, that "half a loaf was better than no bread"—although it did not go to the extent which he desired.

Mr. William Williams

said, that this bill would affect most materially a very important branch of our manufactures, and he said that any interference with trade on the part of the Legislature would be injurious, and without strong reason being shown, and until a full case had been made out, there ought to be no measure passed. The speeches which he had heard in favour of this bill convinced him how dangerous it was for persons, unconnected with trade, to introduce measures of that kind. The law at present in force had existed for several years; during that period the printing business had flourished; and no one acquainted with its wants and interests would recommend such an alteration of that law as was now proposed. The very enactments introduced by the hon. Member for Belfast were expressly excluded from a bill which had been introduced into the House in two successive sessions, by the representative of Manchester, Mr. P. Thomson, then President of the Board of Trade. That Gentleman was in a situation in which he could have ascertained whether such enactments were desired by persons connected with the trade, or would be advantageous to them; and if they were so, he surely would not have taken care to exclude them from the bill which he supported. It had been said that new patterns would be copied in eight days. If the hon. Gentleman had known anything about the law, or the practice of the trade, he would have known that this was impossible, without incurring the severest penalties. As the law now stood, the inventor of a pattern had a clear three months exclusive sale, and if that sale were infringed upon by any person, that party could instantly be stopped by an injunction out of Chancery. As to the West India trade, the extent of it was insignificant, and was the law upon a great and general subject to be altered merely for the convenience of some particular interest? Some years ago a bill of this kind had been introduced into the other House of Parliament, which, at the request of numerous petitions, had been referred to a Select Committee, and on the recommendation of that Committee had been given up. It was surprising that Gentlemen, who called themselves the friends of free trade, should come forward and ask for further restrictions, as though they wanted all other trades to be free but their own. Thinking that the House ought not to interfere upon the subject without stronger ground than had as yet been made out, he now moved that this bill be read a second time this day six months.

Mr. Labouchere

said, that undoubtedly the question was one of great importance to the manufacturing interests. In the first place, he begged to call the attention of the House to the existing law, and he must complain that the hon. Member in his statement had omitted mentioning it. The old law of the land was, that there was protection for three months to calico-printers and linen-printers alone, which could only be enforced by obtaining an injunction from the Court of Chancery. Last year Mr. P. Thomson brought in two bills extending the provisions of the old law to other fabrics. He proposed by one of those bills to give a protection of three years to those articles that were made out of metallic substances, but rendered it compulsory on the parties who wished to avail themselves of that extended period of protection to submit to a system of registration. Some of the manufacturers said it was not worth their while to incur the expense of registration, and therefore did not consent to the extended term under that condition. He (Mr. Labouchere) wished to point out to the House what evils they were likely to fall into if they protracted the period of protection, and at the same time did not compel them to adopt a system of registration. He certainly apprehended that it would be almost impossible to apply a system of that kind without a registration. It would, in fact, be establishing a restriction to one of the branches of our manufactures. Unless a system of registration were adopted, he believed it would be impossible for the Chancellor to decide upon the questions which would come before him. One great question, which it was always exceedingly difficult to decide in such cases, was the question of priority of invention. The same idea frequently struck different individuals nearly at the same time, and it was in such cases exceedingly difficult to determine who was entitled to the priority, but with a system of registration this was perfectly easy. He had been told by the registrar that persons frequently came to look at the register, and seeing the patterns registered, the idea of which had previously struck them, had gone away saying that they perceived they were on that occasion unfortunately too late. But if all these questions were to be left to (he determination of the Judges, they would be involved in law suits and difficulties without end. He thought it right to make this statement, because he thought the statement of the lion. Gentleman to the House was calculated to make it adopt measures which ought not to be adopted. In fact he considered the question now before the House to be merely a question of time; the House had agreed to the principle that it was necessary to afford protection to designs, and whether that protection should be for a period of three, six, or twelve months, was merely a question of time. He thought the present proposition would interfere too much with the trade, although he was bound to confess that the result of the communications he had received had been to produce an impression on his mind that the period of three months was somewhat too short, but he could not help saying he thought the House would act unadvisedly if it were to extend the period to twelve months. He would, therefore, support the second reading of the bill, reserving to himself the right of moving in the committee that the protection should be extended to a period of six months instead of twelve. He thought the House would act unpre cedently in giving a large period of protection, as it would in fact be granting a monopoly of any favourite pattern for too long a period, and raising the price to the consumer, thereby tending to injure the sale, both in the home and in the foreign markets. He should allow the bill to be read a second time, on the understanding that in Committee he should move the substitution of a period of six for one of twelve months.

Mr. Warburton

thought if the House were put in possession of the different views that were entertained on the petition before the bill went into Committee, it would greatly facilitate their coming to a correct conclusion. He was happy to hear the observations that had been made as to the ill effects resulting to the public from the monopoly, and the interests of the various parties concerned ought to be attended to. He wished to know in what respect these finished patterns came from the inventor in a different way than printed works did. The right hon. Baronet opposite, in some observations he made when adverting to petitions placed in his hands, appeared to take some interest in the matter, and he hoped when the subject of granting a term of copyright for literary property came under discussion, they should be honoured with his presence, which he did not remember had been given on former occasions. He thought if the right hon. Baronet gave his attendance on a matter of minor consequence, such as calico printing, he would also give it to the greater matter of literary property, and if so, the House would be more likely to come to a just conclusion on the subject than otherwise.

Sir R. Peel

observed, that he had great doubts upon the subject to which the bill of the hon. Member referred. It might be very inconvenient to extend the protection already granted much farther, while at the same time the present period might be too limited; and then came the question whether, at the same time that the protection was extended, registration should also be required. He was afraid that there would be much difficulty in requiring registration of patterns so evanescent as these matters; and yet if registration were not required, he did not exactly see why the parties asking for protection for their inventions should be put on the same footing as other trades who could register. He was sorry that the House should be asked to legislate on subjects like the present without possessing sufficient practical information on the subject. He could not, for his own part, form a satisfactory opinion on the subject without inquiry. He should, however, certainly support the second reading of the bill, but at the same time he would not pledge himself to agree to all the details in the Committee.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that practical ex- perience showed that the present term was too short, but he was not prepared to say that an extension of the period to twelve months might not be too long. That was a subject, however, for the consideration of a committee.

Mr. M. Phillips

did not wish to take the extreme course recommended by the hon. Member for Coventry, but he thought that there were strong reasons why the House should weigh well any proposition which went to alter the law on a subject of this importance. If the period of protection were extended from three months to six months, it was possible, considering the facility of communication between this country and the continent, that the inventions thus protected might be copied by the Swiss and French printers, who would supply our markets, and thus, while we endeavoured to protect a few individuals, they themselves would suffer, and the national interests would be neglected. Instead of protecting a few, the measure might ruin a great many. It appeared to him that the question had not been generally taken up by the trade, and he did not think that there was any strong feeling among the calico printers on the subject, but at the same time he should not feel himself justified in hastily taking any steps to shut out enquiry, whether the protection now given mi"ht not be extended from three to six months. He therefore should not oppose the second reading of the bill.

Mr. E. Tennent

would lake the second reading of the bill now, on the understanding that it should at present proceed no further, but be referred to a select committee up stairs.

Amendment withdrawn. Bill read a second time, and ordered to be referred to a select committee.