HC Deb 13 February 1852 vol 119 cc498-502

moved for leave to bring in a Bill to carry into effect certain provisions contained in the Copyright Treaty with France, and said, that inasmuch as this Bill contained a principle of legislation novel to the House, it would perhaps be deemed proper that he should in a very few words explain what that principle, or extension of principle, was. The House were aware that by an Act passed in 1838 the subject of international copyright generally was raised. By that Act (1 & 2 Vict. c. 59) it was provided that the Crown might, by an Order in Council, give to books, prints, music, and similar articles from foreign countries the same privileges of copyright as were enjoyed in this country, provided those foreign countries conceded reciprocal privileges. By an Act passed in 1844, en titled the International Copyright Amendment Act (7 Vict. c. 12), these powers were extended to articles of sculpture, and other works of art. In these enactments original works only were included, translations being expressly excluded. In order to procure the benefits of these enact- ments, treaties had been entered into with Prussia, Saxony, and some other States on the Continent; and we were at this moment in communication with Bavaria on the same subject. Gentlemen who had paid attention to this subject were aware that for a long time negotiations had been going on between this country and Prance upon the question of international copyright, but that the various proposals of the two countries had not hitherto terminated in any satisfactory arrangement. The French Government, however, had recently sent over a gentleman to this country, specially commissioned to negociate with the Government on the terms on which the regulation could be relaxed; and the result of communications with that gentleman was the treaty between the two Governments, a copy of which had been laid on the table of the House. It was to enable the Government to carry out certain stipulations in that treaty that he now moved for leave to bring in the present Bill. By this treaty various extensions of powers were proposed to be made in the Act of 1844, but as they were of a trifling description, he would not dwell upon them at length, contenting himself with a reference to the more important principle contained in the Bill to which he had already adverted. He would at once proceed to state what that principle was. It had been strongly pressed upon the Government by Franco that we should extend the protection now confined to original works to translations of works; and after some discussion the British Government agreed to that proposal, with certain restrictions and modifications. It was now intended to give protection to the authorised translation of the original work, on certain terms. It seemed to him unjust and improper to place translations on the same, or anything like the same, footing as original publications, for he thought there was a plain distinction between them. It might, indeed, be contended that a translation, being the result of a new application of original labour, should be considered as an independent work, and under certain circumstances he thought that was so. Translations of works of imagination and poems, even of works of fiction (for instance, one of Sir Walter Scott's novels), must, it was clear, be very imperfect, if they had not in a great degree the merit of the original works. On the other hand, there was a class of works purely historical and scientific, as Humboldt's Cosmos (which had been translated by various persons in England), the translations of which were little more than mere reproductions of the original work, by a merely mechanical operation. Taking all these questions into consideration, it appeared to the Government that it would not be right to accede to the proposal of the French Government, or to grant a very extended protection to translations; but that it might be just, that it would be a great advantage to the author of the original work, and that the general advantages of the arrangement would more than counterbalance any inconveniences which might arise from it, if for a certain limited period protection were given to the authorised translation of an original work. It was agreed, therefore, that for a period of five years the author of an original work, published in either country, should be entitled to protection for the translation which he himself authorised, provided that at the time he published the original he announced on the title-page of such first publication his intention of protecting the translation, and that the latter was published within a certain limited period after the former. This was the principal provision of the Bill; which would, however, not only enable the Government to carry out the convention into which they had entered with France, but would enable them to make similar conventions with other Powers; for it was clear that the law on the subject should be of universal application; and that if we entered into a convention of this kind with France we should be prepared to make similar conventions with all other countries who were willing to enter into them. The measure would also extend the power of the Crown, and might lead to future negotiations with such other countries as should be desirous to make arrangements similar to those which had been entered into with France. The Bill, in fact, not only carried into effect the convention with France, but must also be regarded as a sort of complement to the measure of 1844.


said, that, so far from offering any opposition to the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, he thought, on the contrary, that he was entitled to the thanks of the public for the care he had bestowed on the subject. He thought also that the thanks of the public, and more especially of men of letters, were due to the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), under whose administration of the Foreign Office language, there was no country with which, this treaty was entered into. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had taken a just view of the subject of translations; it was a subject of difficulty—for while, on the one hand, translations could not claim to be put on a footing with original works, on the other hand, he concurred with him that they were entitled to some degree of protection. There was an obvious advantage to the public in such a course. They had an example in the case of the work that had been cited by the right hon. Gentleman, Humboldt's Cosmos; it was a strictly scientific work, without any room for the play of fancy, or for any especial felicity of diction; but yet, even in a work of this kind there was a great difference in the degree of merit of the various translations of it, and the popular acceptance of such a work must depend upon the fidelity with which the translation of the work may have been executed. It was of advantage to the public that there should be one translation that should come forward under the auspices of the author of the original work, and that they should give to the author of the original work some interest in providing an authorised translation. On that ground he thought the right hon. Gentleman had taken a just view of the subject, or had fixed a proper period, for the present at least, when he named five years as the time of vested right in translations; and he trusted there would be no division of opinion as to the utility of passing this Bill. His learned Friend Mr. Justice Talfourd introduced the Bill on the subject, and when he ceased to be a Member of the House that Bill came into his (Viscount Mahon's) hands; but he (Viscount Mahon) and Mr. Justice Talfourd both felt they could not complete the subject in a satisfactory manner without the aid of a treaty respecting international copyright. He rejoiced to sec that some progress had been made towards effecting that object; and he was anxious to elicit from the right hon. Gentleman in what condition they stood with respect to other countries besides those which he had mentioned. There were two countries of especial importance—Belgium, which, from its geographical position and manufactures, was able to compete in many respects with great advantage with England and France; and there was another country of still more importance—the United States of America. In consequence of the affinity of race and of language, there was no country with which it was more desirable that they should come to a good understanding with regard to copyright, or any other subject, than the United States of America. He had reason to believe, from communications from that country, that there was now (what there was not at a former period) a growing wish for the establishment of a system of copyright between the two countries; and he hoped that the negotiations on that subject would now have a happier issue than at a former period. He wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman if any negotiations were in progress between those countries to which he had referred, or whether he could hold out to them the expectation of establishing such negotiations on the passing of this Bill?


could only say, in answer to the question of the noble Lord, that at present he was not aware of any negotiations going on with any country but the one he had already adverted to; but it was the intention of Government, when this Bill should become law, to communicate the law as it should then stand to the various countries of the world, especially to the United States, and to urge upon them the subject, in order that a negotiation might be entered into that would lead to a satisfactory conclusion.

Leave given. Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Labouchere and Mr. Attorney General.