HL Deb 26 July 1858 vol 151 cc2090-3

I beg now to call your Lordships' attention to a very different subject. I rise to present petitions from the Society of Arts, from the Royal Institute of British Architects, and from a great number of painters, sculptors, architects, engravers, photographers, publishers, and others interested in the production of works of Fine Art, signed, among others, by the President of the Royal Academy, the President of the Water Colour Society, and many members of the Royal Academy, praying for an amendment and extension of the law of copyright. For a long period of years the law has recognized the principle of granting protection to works of the mind when they assume a material and useful form. Ever since the time of Queen Anne copyright has been granted to authors for the protection of their works. If a painter, not being satisfied with the remuneration for his works, should determine to engrave them, that engraving would be protected by the law of copyright. The protection of a copyright was even extended to works of design applied to manufactures. But it is a strange circumstance that to painting, the most delightful of all the arts, no protection by copyright has ever been given: and yet, by the same principle, it is an invention of the mind assuming a useful and beneficial form. In practice the effect of the present state of the law is a very extensive circulation of spurious copies of good paintings which is most injurious to artists of reputation, and which operates injuriously in many ways. The artist has lost the copyright in his works, and has been injured in reputation in consequence of their being copied by inferior artists. The public has been injured by the frauds committed. The extent of those frauds is most surprising. I have had laid before me a mass of evidence which is most extraordinary, with which I need not detain your Lordships, but which may very properly be referred to a Select Committee. In making spurious copies, the greatest pains are taken to deceive and mislead the public. They are generally the same size as the original, are painted on similar canvass, and are subscribed with the name or peculiar mark of the artist to whom they are to be attributed. There are regular dealers in these spurious copies, who employ artists of an inferior character for the purpose of carrying on the fraud. The copies are disposed of sometimes at private sales, at others at public auctions in London, or, more generally, in large commercial cities, such as Liverpool, Manchester. &c. It is not easy for the artist to reserve the copyright, because pictures frequently change hands, and there are no means of preventing these spurious copies getting into circulation. Sometimes lawyers are consulted as to the means of remedying this state of things, and they speak with uncertainty about injunctions from Chancery and actions of law; but it is quite out of question to expect that an artist will leave his studio and involve himself in the meshes of the Court of Chancery. A lady of very large fortune, who is remarkable for the admirable manner in which she applies it, purchased a picture from an artist for £600, on the understanding that it should not be copied; and she was very much astonished on going to the Manchester Exhibition a few years afterwards to find there a painting which, with the exception of some of the subordinate details, was an exact copy of her own. One gentleman, with whom I have communicated upon the subject, says that he has known as many as seventeen copies made from one picture. A noble Marquess purchased from the Exhibition a picture of some merit, called "Second Class—The Departure," for which he paid a considerable sum. He was asked to allow it to be engraved, and with his usual kindness and fondness for the arts he consented. Some time afterwards he found that while it had been in the hands of the engraver it had been copied, and the copy sold as the original at a sale in London. At that sale it was described as a very popular work, and the evidence of its popularity was that it had actually been engraved. The painter, Morland, made a contract with a dealer to go to his shop every morning at a certain time, and work for a certain number of hours each day till he had completed two or three pictures. At the same time the dealer engaged two inferior artists, who, as soon as Morland left, assumed his place, and copied the work which had been done during the day; so that when the pictures were completed, instead of two or three, five or six came into circulation. Another story is of this description:—A naval officer, whose novels and writings of that sort are very popular, sent two pictures to be lined. They were detained a long time, and when he went to inquire after them, the man to whom he had entrusted them said that his workshop was not there—it was at a place some miles off. The officer went to this workshop, but he did not find his pictures. The servant there said that they were at another place a mile or two off; but, seeing a ladder slung under a trap-door, he ran up it, opened the door, and in the loft to which it gave access found his pictures, surrounded by copies, three or four of which were completed, and two or three more still in progress. I think I have now said enough to induce your Lordships to consent to the appointment of a Select Committee to consider this subject and to devise some means by which copyright may be extended to works of design generally, but particularly to pictures. I have mentioned engravers. I do not think that they are sufficiently protected. An engraver cannot by law copy an engraving, but he can copy the picture from which it was engraved or an exact copy of it. An eminent architect mentioned this case to me:—Eight or ten persons sent in designs competing for the construction of a certain very important work. None of them were employed to execute it; but when it was completed, it was found to be made up of parts taken from all these competing designs. In 1836, a Committee of the House of Commons investigated this subject, but owing to the close of the Session, it was obliged to make a hasty Report, recommending its reappointment in the following Session. That Committee never was reappointed, and I therefore propose that a Committee of your Lordships Shall be appointed to pursue the inquiry, and to report what remedy can be applied to the relief of these petitioners. I am quite aware that nothing can be done during the present Session, but I wish to have a vote for a Committee to appoint its members, in order that they may, during the recess. direct their attention to the subject, which is rather a complicated one, and may next Session come to their work fully informed upon it, and prepared speedily to apply a remedy to the grievances complained of. I therefore move that a Committee be ap- pointed, and that its members be now named.

Petition read, and ordered to lie on the table.

Then it was moved, That the said petitions be referred to a Select Committee to examine the statements contained therein; and to report thereon to the House.


was fully sensible of the importance of this question, and should offer no opposition to the course which the noble and learned Lord proposed to pursue with regard to it.

Motion agreed to.

Committee named.