HC Deb 10 February 1881 vol 258 cc494-6

asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether any negotiations are pending between Her Majesty's Government and that of the United States on the subject of copyright; and, if so, whether, before their conclusion, the opinion of Parliament will be taken?


asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether any negotiations are being carried on between this Country and the United States, with a view to secure to British authors copyright for their works in the United States; and, if they are, whether he can state to the House the nature of such negotiations, and the stage at which they have arrived; and, whether there are any Papers on the subject which can be laid upon the Table?


Sir, it would be inaccurate to say that actual negotiations are in progress. On the 23rd of September we received from the Foreign Office a draft proposal communicated by Mr. Lowell, who was instructed to ascertain in conversation what Her Majesty's Government thought of the scheme. We learn from other sources that this proposal originated with Eastern publishers, who have suffered from the competition of the publishers in the Western and Southern States, who now reprint at lower rates the English books originally reprinted by Eastern publishers. We are also informed that there is great opposition to the proposals now submitted, and I am not sanguine that they will ever assume a formal shape. In dealing with the question, I was anxious to learn, in the first place, whether a Treaty on the basis of this proposal could be negotiated under the present Copyright Act, and I have been advised that if Her Majesty is advised that due protection is given by it to parties interested in books in this country a Treaty can be negotiated, including a condition that English books must be printed and published in the United States, but not including a condition that American books must be printed and published in England. The object is one which it is so desirable to secure in the interests of the English authors, that I thought it desirable to submit the proposal to the representatives of English authors and publishers, in order to have the advantage of their opinion. In doing so I asked their opinion, especially upon the length of term which should be allowed in America for the publication of an English book; upon the condition restricting the copyright of American books to books printed and published in this country; and upon a condition which was in substance to the effect that the books of an English author publishing with copyright in America should be sold to his own fellow-citizens in this country at as cheap a rate as that at which they are sold to Americans. I am still waiting for answers, which shall receive my most careful consideration. In reference to the second Question of the noble Lord, any proposal to allow the sale of American reprints in this country, or to require American books to be printed and published in this country, would need the sanction of Parliament. When the Correspondence is complete I shall be glad to lay it on the Table.