HL Deb 14 June 1866 vol 184 cc360-74

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of the Bill, said, he need not trouble their Lordships at any length, because he was sure that the object was one which would have the general approval of their Lordships; and moreover the subject was one on which he did not pretend to any special information. It had, however, been presented to his notice in a manner he could not disregard. He was requested to give his attention to the subject by an authoress of great distinction connected with his own county, with whose works no doubt many of their Lordships were familiar—he referred to Mrs. Henry Wood, the authoress of East Lynne. Before, however, alluding to the case of Mrs. Wood he would make a few remarks on the general subject. He would remind the House that the law of copyright was one wholly founded upon statute, dating from the time of Queen Anne. The first Act gave to authors of books and their heirs the sole right of publication for fourteen years, and if the author outlived the expiration of that term the right was extended to another fourteen years. That was the general state of the law up to the present day with two alterations and extensions. By the 54 Geo. III. the period was extended from fourteen to twenty-eight years, and in the event of the author being alive at the expiration of that time the copyright was extended over the remainder of his life. And lastly, within the memory of many noble Lords, the Act received its present extension after a long contest, by the energetic perseverance of Mr. Justice Talfourd. There had also been some special legislation, not immaterial to the subject of the present Bill, with reference to particular points. Dramatic productions were the subject of a special law passed in the 3 & 4 Will. IV., a long time previous to Serjeant Talfourd's Act. This Act conferred the same privileges upon the authors of plays not printed and published as had previously been conferred upon authors by the 54 Geo. III., and by Serjeant Talfourd's Act the same privileges were extended to musical compositions. By several Acts passed in the reigns of George II. George III., George IV., and Queen Victoria, similar privileges were bestowed upon engravings, drawings, and photographs. These statutes being of a restrictive and penal character, had always been strictly construed by the Courts of Law. Serjeant Talfourd's Act applied distinctly to dramatic pieces, but not to the adaptation of books of fiction, and their alteration into another form. It would have been no very unreasonable interpretation of that Act to hold that it had that application; but by various decisions of the Courts of Law it had been held that the production and acting of novels was not prohibited, and that persons had a right to dramatize works of fiction. What he now asked for was, he believed, but a fair and reasonable extension of the principle which had been acknowledged in other directions. As to the particular case to which he had referred, he had a statement from Mrs. Henry Wood, in which she complained that she heard a short time ago that East Lynne was being brought out at one of the theatres, and she applied for remedy. The person who dramatized the work referred her to the lessee of the theatre where it was to be performed; and he, averring that he had a perfect right to produce the piece, declined to withdraw it, or even give her a share of the gains it might bring. Mrs. Wood felt it was a great injustice that the products of her time and brains should be taken in this way; but, as was the case with other authors, her chief grievance was, not the pecuniary wrong, but the fact that the piece was put upon the stage in an offensive, vulgar, and inaccurate manner. His Bill simply proposed that when the copyright of any work of fiction had not been sold or disposed of the exclusive right of dramatizing such work and causing it to be performed should be lodged in the author.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(The Lord Lyttelton.)


said, he thought the protection to authors went far enough already. He thought the term "Dramatizing" was very vague, and that the proposal would give rise to a great deal of litigation. This was a sort of petty legislation to which he thought they ought not to have recourse. He did not think that authors should protect themselves in this way. He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment moved to leave out ("now") and insert ("this Day Six Months.")—(The Lord Taunton.)


said, he hoped to be able to persuade their Lordships to give a second reading to this Bill. He considered it a necessary complement of the Bill of 1842 which he had himself been instrumental in carrying through the House of Commons, although it had been attributed to Mr. Serjeant Talfourd, who was not in the House at the time. Practical hardships arose under the present state of the law for which he thought a remedy ought to be provided. Authors now suffered in purse and in fame. Authors suffered in purse because when a work of fiction was profitable, a drama founded on it was frequently profitable also, and that profit ought to belong to the author; and they suffered in fame by their works being badly dramatized. If their Lordships were prepared to stand by the principle of the Act of 1842, he defied them to state any tangible ground why they should not agree to this measure. He did not see why they should give protection in one shape and refuse it in another. He need not remind their Lordships that several conventions had been entered into with foreign countries, based on the Copyright Act, and if this Bill passed, he trusted Her Majesty's Government would endeavour to include dramatized works in those conventions.


said, he did not rise on behalf of the Government, but to express his individual opinion that the Bill was unnecessary. The noble Earl who had just sat down regarded the measure as a necessary complement of the Act of 1842; and that those who were in favour of the one must necessarily be in favour of the other. But in his (Earl Granville's) view that was not the case. The Bill appeared to him to be likely to injure every person whom it was intended to benefit. With regard to authors, in nine cases out of ten they would be benefited, for by dramatizing a work a desire was created among the public to read it; and with regard to the public, it would be a great hardship upon the playgoing public if play writers were to be precluded from founding dramas upon successful works of fiction. Very few of the plots of dramas were original; undoubtedly the plots of Shakspeare's plays were not invented by himself. Much had been said lately on the subject of patents. Now, there was this great difference between patents and books, that while in the former case there might be a monopoly, in the latter there could be none, for as soon as a book was published the world in general was at liberty to use in every sort of literary production the ideas which it contained. The only part of the existing law to which he objected was the right of translation, which he thought had operated injuriously. He could not, however, support a proposal to prevent any person dramatizing any part of a work. For these reasons he would advise his noble Friend to withdraw the Bill.


said, that having examined the Bill that morning, he was of opinion that it would open a most fruitful source of interminable litigation. It proposed to give to authors during their lifetime and seven years after the sole and exclusive right of dramatizing, or causing to be represented at any theatre, any novel, romance, poem, or other work of fiction of which they were the authors. The argument in support of the existing law had always been that, though it gave an author a copyright in his work, it did not prohibit anything founded upon that work which was new and original in its character. Now, nothing could be more different from a novel than a drama founded upon that novel, or, as generally happened, upon some particular portion of it; and, as his noble Friend had remarked, there were very few plays the plots of which were original. It was alleged that it was unfair that an author should not get the benefit of such a drama. But he might disapprove dramas altogether, and was he to prevent anybody from doing that which he would not do himself? Moreover, the interpretation of the Bill would cause endless litigation. A "poem," he supposed, every one might understand; but what was a "novel" or a "romance," and what was a "work of fiction?" Why, it had been said of M. Thiers' histories that they were works of fiction. He hoped his noble Friend would not press the Bill to the second reading, for he was quite certain that its provisions would be as impossible to carry into effect as they were contrary to all reason.

On Question, that ("now") stand Part of the Motion? their Lordships divided: Contents 11; Not-Contents 89: Majority 78.

Resolved in the Negative; and Bill to be read 2a on this Day Six Months.

Canterbury, Archp. Boyle, L.(E. Cork and Orrery.)
Cranworth, L.(L. Chancellor.) Brougham and Vaux, L.
Clandeboye, L. (L. Duferin and Claneboye.)
Devonshire, D.
Somerset, D. Dartrey, L. (L. Cremorne.)
Normanby, M. Foley, L. [Teller.]
Granard, L. (E. Granard.)
Airlie, E.
Chichester, E.[Teller.] Mostyn, L.
Clarendon, E. Oxenfoord,L.(E.Stair.)
Fortescue, E. Ponsonby, L.(E. Bessborough.)
Granville, E.
Harrowby, E. Sandys, L.
Minto, E. Saye and Sele, L.
Morley, E. Somerhill, L.(M. Clanricarde.)
Russell, E.
Stanley of Alderley, L.
Eversley, V. Sundridge, L.(D. Argyll.)
Halifax, V.
Sydney, V. Talbot de Malahide, L.
Taunton, L.
London, Bp.
York, Archp. Sidmouth, V.
Marlborough, D. Bangor, Bp.
Richmond, D. Carlisle, Bp.
Rutland, D. Gloucester and Bristol, Bp.
Bath, M. [Teller.] Oxford, Bp.
Bristol, M. Peterborough, Bp.
Salisbury, M. Ripon, Bp.
Winchester, Bp.
Amherst, E.
Bandon, E. Abinger, L.
Bantry, E. Bateman, L.
Beauchamp, E. Bolton, L.
Belmore, E. Brodrick, L.(V. Midleton.)
Brooke and Warwick,E.
Cadogan, E. Castlemaine, L.
Cardigan, E. Chelmsford, L.
Carnarvon, E. Clifton.L.(E.Darnley.)
Derby, E. Colchester, L.
Devon, E. Denman, L.
Doncaster, E. (D.Buccleuch and Queensberry.) Feversham, L.
Grinstead, L. (E. Enniskillen.)
Ellenborough, E. Hastings, L.
Hardwicke, E. Hatherton, L.
Huntingdon, E. Heytesbury, L.
Malmesbury, E. Houghton, L.
Nelson, E. Kilmaine, L.
Orkney, E. Kingsdown, L.
Pomfret, E. Lyttelton, L.
Powis, E. Lyveden, L.
Romney, E. Overstone, L.
Selkirk, E. Polwarth, L.
Shrewsbury, E. Ravensworth, L.
Stanhope, E. Redesdale, L.
Verulam, E. Saltoun, L.
Wilton, E. Silchester, L.(E. Longford.)
Clancarty, V.(E. Clancarty.) Southampton, L.
Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)
De Vesci, V.
Hardinge, V. Walsingham, L.
Hawarden, V. [Teller.] Wentworth, L.
Lifford, V. Wynford, L.
  1. ECCLESIASTICAL COMMISSION BILL. 2,912 words, 2 divisions