HL Deb 24 June 1875 vol 225 cc423-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, the measure touched only only part of a large and important subject—it dealt only with the question of copyright so far as it affected Canada and the Canadian people, and therefore he did not intend to trouble their Lord-ships by entering upon the general question of the law of copyright. Up to the year 1842 the importation into this country of foreign reprints was absolutely prohibited; but it was found that as regarded the Provinces of Canada the prohibition could not be maintained, and that a very considerable amount of smuggling of re-printed works from the United States into Canada took place. This gave rise to many complaints, both in this country and in Canada; and the result was the Imperial Act of 1847, which provided that whenever a Colony made such provisions as should be considered satisfactory for the protection of British authors and publishers in such Colony, the Queen, by an Order in Council, might suspend the operation of the Act of 1842. The matter was, therefore, practically left to the Colonial Legislatures. Subsequently, the Legislature of Canada passed an Act by which it was provided that foreign reprints introduced into that Colony should pay an ad valorem duty of 12½ per cent, which should be paid to the owner of the copyright; and this, it was believed, would secure a fair remuneration for authors, reprints of whose works might be so introduced. The Queen by Order in Council gave effect to that Act, and it had been in operation for some time; but the ad valorem duty of 12½ per cent had proved an absolute and entire failure. The works of some of the most eminent English authors of the day continued to be re-printed in the United States, and passed across the Canadian frontier without the payment of any duty whatever; and the result was that—unintentionally so far as the Canadian Government were concerned—those authors had been defrauded of the benefits of the provision which the Legislatures—both the Canadian Legislature and the Imperial Parliament had made for them. In some cases they received from the duty some trifling sums, but in most most cases they received nothing at all. He had heard that the amount received by one eminent author was 40s., and another, whose works had a very large circulation, and influenced the public as widely as any writings of the present day, had fared still worse, the copyright duty paid to him having amounted to only 25s. Indeed, the entire produce of the duty for the year 1872–3 was as small a sum as $400. English authors and publishers were placed in a worse position as regarded the fruits of copyright in Canada than they were on the Continent of Europe. If there was one property which belonged to a man, it was his property in the works of his own brain—works which affected not only his own generation, but generations to come. Under the existing system English authors and publishers were not the only sufferers. The Canadian publishers and the Canadian public suffered also. The United States' publishers had the advantage of the Canadian publishers. What were called "advance sheets" of works about to be published in England were sent to publishers in the United States, and by means of those advanced sheets they got the command of the Canadian market. Perhaps it was that the Canadian publishers were too heavily weighted in other respects to compete with the publishers of the United States for "advance sheets;" but, from whatever cause, those sheets did get into the hands of the latter and not into those of the former. The Canadian publishers could not get a sale for such expensive editions of new books as those produced in England; and accordingly they were driven to the pirated editions. Copyright was a difficult subject to deal with even at home, but when in addition to the English author and the English publisher, the colonial publisher had to be considered, the question became much more complicated. He had said that the ad valorem duty plan had failed. It was not difficult to see the reason why. There were some 200 or 300 frontier stations on the line of boundary between the United States and Canada; but there were several thousands of miles of boundary. Their Lordships might imagine then the difficulties of supervision to enforce the payment of duty on the reprints brought into Canada. The necessity for the Colonies of cheaper editions of new works than those published in England must be admitted. He believed that long ago Lord Macaulay and Sir Charles Trevelyan thought it necessary to sanction the introduction of these reprints into India. The fact was that a different system of copyright was required for Canada from that which existed in this country. The Parliament of Canada took that view, and had given effect to it in an Act, which if the Imperial Parliament passed the Bill now before their Lordships he would be able to advise Her Majesty to sanction by Order in Council. Without this Bill he could not do so, for a reason which he would presently explain. The Bill did two things. In the first place, it affirmed the principle that copyright in England should carry copyright in Canada. It would make the owner of an English copyright secure of a copyright for 28 years in Canada; but it did so one condition—that the work should be printed and published, or reprinted and republished, and registered in Canada. The Bill further provided that Canadian reprints of English copyright books should not be allowed to re-enter England. The principle of the latter provision was not a new one. The existing law prohibited an entry to reprints, and it would be impossible to obtain the assent of English publishers to a Bill of this kind if they were not to be protected from cheap reprints which would be imported into this country for the purpose of underselling their own editions. The reason why he was unable to advise the Crown to sanction the Act passed by the Canadian Legislature without this Bill was, that sanction could not be given by Order in Council to any Colonial Bill which was repugnant to an Imperial statute. Now, as the Imperial Act of 1847 allowed the importation of foreign reprints on payment of a certain duty, the recent Act of the Canadian Parliament was in form repugnant to it. The plan which would be sanctioned if this Bill became law was a compromise. He believed it was a reasonable one, and that most authors and publishers would avail themselves of it. Those who did not wish to do so would keep themselves under the existing law and take their chance of what they might receive under the 12½ ad valorem duty. His noble Friend the late Foreign Secretary had found it was a very complicated and arduous task to deal with this question of copyright in the Colonies, and last year he himself felt obliged to advise the Crown to refuse assent to a Colonial Act on this subject which was repugnant to Imperial law. The Act to which he now wished to see the assent of the Crown given was, as he had already explained, repugnant to a provision in an Imperial statute; but the repugnancy was only technical, and he thought it would be much to be lamented if Parliament should not accede to the proposals in the Bill now before their Lordships, though it only dealt with one part of the subject. He might state that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to issue a Royal Commission to deal with all the questions in connection with the subject. He believed, therefore, that this Bill would facilitate a settlement of the subject and bring about much larger results than for the present could be accomplished by the action of the Canadian Legislature.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Carnarvon.)


said, it was now more than 33 years since—in 1842—he introduced a Bill on the subject of copyright. That Bill was not exactly passed in the form in which he first had framed it, but received Amendments suggested in part by Lord Macaulay and in part by Sir Robert Peel. Thus improved he believed he might say that it had worked well and given satisfaction to all parties in England. But in our Colonial Empire the case had been otherwise. He concurred with his noble Friend (the Earl of Carnarvon) that for a growing Colony new works must be produced in a cheaper form than that in which they were usually published in this country; and he also concurred with him as to the disadvantage at which the Canadian publisher was placed by the "advance sheets" of English works which the United States' publisher was able to secure. An international Copyright Act with the United States was most desirable, otherwise it was impossible that the English law could be long allowed to continue in its present state; for while we allowed an American citizen to acquire an English copyright for his books first published here, the like privilege was denied by American law to an English subject publishing his books in America. For instance, Mr. Motley—a name to be mentioned with all respect, and with wishes for the recovery of his health—enjoyed an English copyright for his books published in England; but when Captain Marryatt, although the son of an American lady, applied for the same right for his works in the United States it was denied him on the ground that only an American citizen could acquire a copyright in America. He thought Her Majesty's Government deserved thanks for the Bill introduced by his noble Friend.


thought the success of the Bill depended on the single question whether the publishers of Canada would be able to reprint editions of English works as cheap as the United States' publishers could print pirated edition of these works. He was afraid they would not find it worth their while to enter into the competition. The experiment of the new Act and of the Bill before their Lordships was, however, a laudable one, and he wished it success.


said, he considered this a very laudable attempt to put this matter on a better footing, and he had greater hopes of the Act succeeding than his noble Friend (Lord Lisgar) seemed to have. The Government of the United States were able to carry out a good copyright all over that large country; and that being so, he did not see why the plan to which this Bill would give effect could not be carried out in Canada. As having taken some part in the negotiations respecting copyright between Canada and this country, he was happy to bear testimony to the good feeling with which they had been conducted on both sides. He hoped those who took an interest in the intellectual advancement of Canada would find their desires promoted by the present legislation.


admitted that during the time he was at the Colonial Office no progress was made with this copyright question, and was glad to find his noble Friend had found himself in a position to bring this measure before Parliament. He was afraid that what had been suggested by the noble Lord who had been Governor General of Canada (Lord Lisgar) would turn out to be well founded—he feared that the difficulties in the way of the successful operation of the Act were not so much theoretical as practical. He was afraid that the Canadian Parliament would attempt to do something beyond their power if they endeavoured throughout their long American frontier to shut out the cheap editions published in America. However, as this Bill was in the interest of English authors, he should support it. The Bill was in principle right, and he hoped it would effect the object sought to be attained.

Motion agreed to:—Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.