HL Deb 11 May 1891 vol 353 cc437-60


Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


My Lords, the House will readily believe that I feel myself very unequal to the task imposed upon me of moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I am, however, sustained by two convictions—first of all, that there is no body of men in the Kingdom towards whom your Lordships entertain a more friendly feeling than towards those who are eminent in literature and art whom this Bill seeks to benefit; and, secondly, I am sustained by the conviction that whatever errors I may make, whether of omission or of commission, will be set right by subsequent speakers. This Bill is brought up by the Society of Authors. This Society of Authors is a society which any man may well be proud to serve. It has for its President Lord Tennyson, and for its Chairman. Mr. Walter Besant, and among its members are a large number of persons very eminent in literature. I wish to say, on behalf of the Society of Authors, that this is not an authors' Bill (although it is fathered by the society) in the sense that it seeks to set up what may be called the extreme rights. Nor, my Lords, is it an authors' Bill in another sense. It is not an authors' Bill as being confined to literary copyright. The Bill deals with every kind of copyright—literary, artistic, and musical. If I were not informed to the contrary, I should have thought this Bill had been put forward rather by a Society of Artists than by a Society of Authors, for whereas the literary part of the Bill strays very little beyond the recommendations of the Commission, it is perfectly true that, as regards the artistic part, there are conditions in this Bill which are not authorised by the Report of the Royal Commission which sat in 1876 and 1877, and of which the Duke of Rutland was Chairman, and upon which Lord Knutsford and Lord Herschell had seats. I hope to be able to persuade you that the artistic part of the Bill is right. I only allude to the matter now for the purpose of showing that the Society of Authors are not subject to the reproach of seeking to legislate only in their own interests. This Bill is supported by the most eminent names in literature and art, including, of course, Sir Frederick Leighton, and by publishers. In point of form, this Bill has been drafted under the immediate supervision of Sir Frederic Pollock, than whom I may say there is no better draftsman in England, and no one more intimately conversant with the puzzling details of the Law of Copyright. I had hoped that my task, though it could not have been easy, would, at all events, have been short. I had hoped that all I should have been called upon to do would have been to explain the main features of this Bill; but the opposition of Her Majesty's Government to this Bill, of which I have been warned, but for which, I confess, I cannot find a reason, necessitates my taking a somewhat different course. That opposition necessitates that I should dwell with some persistency on the shockingly discreditable state of the present Law of Copyright. Since the first Statute on the subject of copyright was passed in the time of Queen Anne, the Law of Copyright seems to have been the sport of some malignant demon as it were, and we find that at present the Law of Copyright is contained in 18 Acts of Parliament, and in some ill-defined Common Law principles. Well, I think it will be admitted that here are all the materials for a glorious muddle, and as Statute after Statute was passed the confusion grew worse confounded. All the usual artifices which are employed by draftsmen to make Acts of Parliament unintelligible have, it appears to me, been made use of in this case, and some artifices which fortunately are not usual. Statutes have been incorporated by reference; some of them have been drawn in the most slovenly possible manner, some of them contain enormously long rigmarole sentences, in the middle of which, as Sir James Stephen has remarked of one of them "the draftsman seems to have lost his way." This subject of copyright has been dealt with at different times piecemeal in different stages and in different conditions of public opinion; and the result is that there are arbitrary distinctions in the law which it is impossible to defend. To crown all, some of these Acts have been drafted by persons who have shown an absolutely astounding ignorance of the law which they sought to modify. Now, I have said that the muddle began with the Statute of Anne. One would have thought it was not very easy to begin with a muddle, because that was the first Statute passed, but the muddle began in this way, that the Statute of Anne was apparently passed by a Legislature who had evidently not the slightest idea'that there was any Law of Copyright in existence at all, and it so happens that it was more than 60 years before the lawyers could decide whether the Common Law of Copyright was superseded by the Statute of Anne, or whether the Statute of Anne was in addition to the Common Law rights. At least this question was finally settled by the House of Lords, when it was settled, on the opinion of six Judges against five, in favour of the former view; but Lord Mansfield, who was one of the Judges, being a Member of your Lordships' House, did not give his opinion with the other Judges; if he had, the opinion of the Bench would have been absolutely equally divided, as he agreed with the minority. One would have thought that the Legislature would have taken warning by that, and that after an episode of that sort, draftsmen would have been employed, who at all events, knew something of the law which they sought to modify by Statute. But we find that the draftsmen in the time of Queen Victoria show absolutely and precisely the same ignorance as the draftsmen of the time of Queen Anne, and that they fell into precisely the same error as the draftsmen of the former reign. In 1842 an Act of Parliament was passed which is still the law, and is still the principal Act with regard to copyright. That Act dealt with, among other matters, dramatic copyright. It is not decided to this day whether the Act takes away the Common Law right previously subsisting in a dramatic author to prevent in perpetuity the publication of a play acted in public but not printed. It is perfectly clear that the draftsman was absolutely ignorant of the Common Law, because the Act recites the intention of the Legislature to extend dramatic copyright; but if the Common Law is taken into consideration, at all events in one particular direction, the Act of Parliament, instead of extending the then Law of Copyright, actually cut it down. There is another matter about the Act of 1842, which is this: the draftsman actually misunderstood the terms of an Act of Parliament which he purported to amend; of course the draftsmen in the time of Queen Anne could not do that, because there was no Statute in existence then on the subject to amend. Now, my Lords, I come to the Act of 1862. That was the first Act giving statutory copyright to works of Fine Art, and here we find the draftsman again falling into exactly the same error as his predecessors. The Preamble of the Act recites as follows:—" Whereas authors of paintings, &c, have no copyright." Now, that Preamble has given rise to a good deal of trouble, because, as a matter of fact, "authors of paintings," &c., had by the Common Law a perpetual copyright to prevent anybody copying their pictures and drawings before publication, and, at all events, two of the learned Judges, Sir James Stephen and Mr. Justice Day, have expressed doubts as to whether or not the Common Law right is, to some extent, cut down by that Statute. Now I come to the Copyright Commission, which sat to take evidence for just a year, from May 1876 to May 1877. The Report of that Commission commented in 1878 in scathing terms on the chaotic and unsatisfactory state of the Law of Copyright. The Commissioners, after observing that The Common Law principles which lie at the root of the law have never been settled, proceed in paragraph 9 to fall foul of the Statute Law in the following terms:— The 14 Acts of Parliament which deal with the subject were passed at different times between 1735 and 1875. They are drawn in different styles, and some are drawn so as to be hardly intelligible. Obscurity of style, however, is only one of the defects of these Acts. Their arrangement is often worse than their style. Of this the Copyright Act of 1842 is a conspicuous instance. This Report is studded with examples of the uncertainty of the law. Take paragraph 31. There the Commissioners complain that it is uncertain what constitutes publication, and they observe, in paragraph 71— We have carefully considered the Statute Law now in force with reference to music and the drama; but from the way in which certain Acts of Parliament have been framed and incorporated by reference, considerable doubt arises in our minds on various important points connected with these subjects. But the uncertainty of the law is not its only defect; it is also full of arbitrary distinctions. Paragraphs 10 and 11 of the Report are as follows:— 10. The piecemeal way in which the subject has been dealt with affords the only possible explanation of a number of apparently arbitrary distinctions between the provisions made upon matters which would seem to be of the same nature. Thus—(a) The term of copyright in books, and in printed and published dramatic pieces and music, is the life of the author and seven years after his death, or 42 years from the date of publication, whichever is the longer. (b) The term of copyright in music not printed and published but publicly performed is doubtful, and may perhaps be perpetual. (c) The term of copyright in a lecture not printed and published but publicly delivered is wholly uncertain. The term of copyright in a lecture printed and published is the longer of the two periods of 28 years and the life of the author. It may, perhaps, be doubted whether the term of copyright in a book consisting of a collection of lectures would differ from the term of copyright in other books. (d) The term of copyright in engravings, &c., is 28 years from publication; in paintings, &c., the artist's life and seven years; in sculpture, 14 years from the first 'putting forth or publishing' of the work (an indefinite phrase), 14 years more being given to the sculptor if he is living at the end of the first term. 11. Other singular distinctions exist as to the law relating to registration of copyrights. No system of registration is provided for dramatic copyright, or for copyright in lectures or engravings. Such a system is provided for copyright in books and paintings, but its effect varies. Registration must in either case precede the taking of legal proceedings for an infringement of copyright, but after registration the owner of copyright in a book may, while the owner of copyright in a painting may not, sue the persons who infringed his copyright before registration. Those are only selections from a mass of defects mentioned by the Commissioners. For instance, in paragraph 102, the Commissioners observe that the effect of a proviso in the Fine Arts Act of 1862 is, that if an artist sells a picture without a written agreement as to the copyright, the copyright is altogether lost—the artist loses it and the buyer does not get it. This proviso, the Commissioners observed, Was apparently added to the Bill without sufficient consideration during its passage through Parliament. One of the Commissioners, Sir James Stephen, took upon himself the arduous task of codifying the law of copyright, and his Code is published at the end of the Report. The notes to the Code are, perhaps, more instructive than the Code itself in regard to the disgraceful state of the law. As to two Acts dealing with penalties for pirating prints and engravings, Sir James Stephen complains that they are "inexpressibly puzzling," and he adds— I have compared the two Acts line by line, and I am by no means sure that I have got the result correctly. The sense escapes in a cloud of words. One sentence of 55 lines in one Act qualifies in two minute particulars a sentence of 61 lines in the other Act. In addition to these remarks of the Commissioners, I should like to add to what they have said one word as to the present deadlock in the case of the law dealing with the drama, and I would give, as an illustration, the Little Lord Fauntleroy case. Anybody may dramatise anybody else's novel, and having dramatised that novel the law does not object to his getting that drama acted, but though he may dramatise the novel he may not publish the drama, because if he does, that is an infringement of the novelists' copyright. But here the difficulty comes in: the law says before you can act a drama you must give a copy to the Lord Chamberlain, but you cannot give a copy to the Lord Chamberlain, because that would be to infringe the copyright in the novelist. I venture to think this is a most discreditable state of the law. It reminds me of the story which Lord Eldon used to tell of an Act of Parliament. He said that an Act of Parliament had once been passed to build a new prison out of the remains of an old prison, but it contained a clause "that the old prison was not to be touched until the new prison was built." That is the sort of way in which we legislate. Now, my Lords, copyright may be roughly divided into literary copyright and artistic copyright. First of all, as there are several noble Lords here who are not learned in the law, I may perhaps tell them, which will no doubt surprise them very much, that ever since this Report of 1878 was issued, nothing has been done to amend the Law of Copyright except in two particulars. International copyright has been dealt with under the International Convention of Berne; and, thanks to the exertions of a gentleman known as the "Musical Hawk," to twist a monstrous law to his own advantage, the most intolerable features in the law of musical copyright have been set right. But with those exceptions nothing has been done, though abortive Bills have been from time to time introduced, and upon those Bills the Bill which is now before the House is to a great extent based. As regards literary copyright, the principal Amendment in this Bill is to abolish the necessity, in the case of an alien, of residence in this country in order to get copyright. That is a point which has always been doubtful, and the consequence is that when an American wishes to get English copyright he has to undertake a journey to Canada, a journey which I think he might well be spared. It is necessary, whatever happens to this Bill, that the law should be altered in this respect, because if the law is not altered in this respect the American copyright possibly will not apply to England. Therefore, whatever may be done by your Lordships with regard to this Bill, I would urge that if we want to get for certain the benefit of American copyright, that the law should be amended in this particular as to residence before the 1st of July, when the American Copyright Act comes into operation. It is necessary that the Bill should be passed before then with regard to residence on English soil, in order to get copyright, for unless that is done English authors may not be enabled to take advantage of that Act. Whatever happens to this Bill it is eminently desirable that a Bill dealing with this point should he passed with all convenient speed. I may observe with regard to residence that that is one of the recommendations of the Commissioners. With regard to the duration of copyright the recommendations of the Commissioners are adhered to. It now endures for 42 years from publica- tion, or for the author's life, and seven years after his death, whichever is the longer period. The Commissioners suggest, and this Bill proposes, to substitute the life of the author, and in every case a term of 30 years after his death. There are two advantages in that, one of which is that it is not very easy sometimes to tell when a work is published, but it is usually easy enough to know when an author is dead. And there is, another thing, the copyrights of an author's works keep dropping in one after another under present conditions; but if the law is altered in accordance with the suggestion of the Commissioners, the whole of a man's works will cease to be copyright at the same time, and a complete edition of his works might then be published. At present it might be 42 years from the death of the author before a complete non-copyright edition of his works can be published. There are only three countries where the term is shorter — Belgium, Holland, and Greece; it is the same as that which obtains in Germany, and there are many other European countries where the term is a great deal longer. Novelists are to have the exclusive right to dramatise their novels, and conversely the authors of dramas will have the exclusive right to convert their dramas into novels. Abridgment is recognised; for the first time as part of copyright, and the period after which the author of an article or essay in a collective work (other than an Encyclopaedia) is to be entitled to the right of separate publication is reduced—it will be after three years instead of 28 years, as at present. So far we march with the Report of the Commission, but in one important respect, no doubt, the Report of the Commission with regard to literary copyright has been departed from. The Report of the Commission recommends that non-registration within a certain time shall entail an absolute forfeiture of the right to sue. We suggest that there shall be no absolute forfeiture, but that on payment of a penalty the right to sue shall revive. In one respect, no doubt, the Bill fails altogether to carry into effect the recommendations of the Commission, and that is as regards setting up a system of licensing in the colonies. No doubt this is an exceedingly difficult question. There is a system of licensing, similar to that which the Commission suggests, now in existence in Canada under a Canadian Act passed in 1875, and ratified by the Imperial Legislature. But by that Act the Canadians were only given the power of re - publishing copyright works of English authors with the consent of the authors. That is a vital reservation and apparently it will not satisfy the colonists. There is another mode of obtaining English copyright works besides by re-publication. The other means open to the colonists of obtaining English copyright books at less than copyright prices is for them to obtain an Order in Council empowering them, on certain conditions, to import into the colony American reprints of English books, or the Tauchnitz Editions, or what not. The Commissioners were not altogether satisfied with the conditions laid down in the Foreign Reprints Act, and they suggested that it should be re-enacted with more stringent conditions. They suggest that some system of licensing should be set up in the colonies. We do not propose to interfere in any way with the Canadian Act of 1875, and only to a very slight extent with the Foreign Reprints Act; but the Society of Authors have found themselves unable to follow the recommendations of the Commissioners in favour of licensing. As to Fine Art copyright, the Bill does not compel registration either of paintings or of sculptures at any time. The Commissioners suggested that registration should be compulsory after the painter or sculptor had parted with the copyright in his works, and not before. But we find that the painter and the sculptor very strongly object to any system of registration at all, because they say it is so much the custom to keep touching up their works that none of them can tell when they are finished. Again, the Bill resolves a very moot point in favour of the artists—a point which the Commission acknowledge they had the greatest difficulty in determining, namely, whether the copyright in a painting or sculpture should, on such painting or sculpture being sold, remain with the artist in the absence of any agreement, or pass to the buyer. I hope that the strong and unanimous desire of the artists will be allowed to outweigh the very hesitating expression of opinion on the part of the Commission which was, I believe, only the opinion of a bare majority, and that the law may be altered in favour of the artists, particularly as the Bill introduces two important modifications in the copyright it proposes to confer upon the artists. A painter is not allowed, without the consent of the owner of the picture, to reproduce, by any art or in any size, a portrait painted on commission, nor may the painter, without the like consent, make a replica—that is, a copy of the same size and by the same art—of any picture he has sold. As to the rest of the Bill, the provisions as to Fine Art copyright follow the recommendations of the Commission by making it an infringement of copyright to copy any design in one art—say painting — by any design in another art — say sculpture. Artistic copyright is made to endure for the same term as literary copyright, and stringent provisions are inserted for the protection of the copyright owner. As to prints and photographs, copyright is only given for 30 years, and the registration of all prints is required. It is expressly provided that no photograph ordered on commission is to be exhibited without the leave of the person ordering the photograph. A Fine Arts Copyright Bill, almost identical with this Bill, passed a Second Reading in the Commons in 1882, but it failed to pass 'through Committee, principally owing to the opposition of Sir H. D. Wolff, one of the Copyright Commissioners, who took the objection, since removed by the conclusion of the Berne Convention in 1886, that there should be no legislation on copyright in this country until some arrangement had been made with foreign countries on the subject. The Bill of 1882 was both a consolidating and amending measure, so also was a Bill brought in by Lord Herschell in 1878, and another by the present Duke of Rutland in 1879. I may add that this Bill proposes, in accordance with the recommendations of the Commission, to set up new registration offices. This proposal is, however, merely tentative, and it is believed that the present offices in Stationers' Hall will be sufficient for all the requirements of the Bill. I should like to make one observation with regard to the American Copyright Act which has just been passed. That Act contains, as your Lordships are aware, a provision that every book, to obtain American copyright, must have two copies printed from type set in the United States. This provision has greatly alarmed our printers here, who seem afraid that English books copyrighted in America will have to be printed there exclusively. I think, although their alarm is not altogether unfounded, it is very much exaggerated. As Sir Frederick Pollock pointed out in an article in the Contemporary Review for April, the loss of time and difficulties in the way of absolutely simultaneous publication will lead to printing in both countries. Sir Frederick writes— Time and risk would clearly be saved by printing in England first, and sending; out corrected sheets to be reprinted in America. If this be so, there can be no reason for resorting to the retaliatory legislation which has been suggested. It is gratifying to find that the most scathing criticism of the printing provisions of the American Act come from the Americans themselves. The New York Nation, a paper that, I believe, enjoys a very enviable reputation, objects to the printing clause as— A piece of tariff barbarism no more respectable than an Act obliging foreigners on landing here to provide themselves with a suit of American-made clothes, in order to entitle them to the services of the police, or to access to our Courts of Justice … to put any condition on a man's right to the protection of the law for his person or property beyond honesty and peaceable behaviour, is unworthy of a civilised Government. It is, however, only fair to the Americans to add, as the Times observed on the 17th of March, that— In some respects, at least, the Act is better than had been expected… In future, etchings and engravings may be copyrighted and imported on payment of the existing duty. This change in the law, the Times thought— Ought to make a very great difference, indeed, in the value of artistic copyrights and in that of the engraver's skill. Upon that, I may observe that it would seem that the clause as to printing does not apply to musical copyright. My Lords, I have now taken the House through the main provisions of this Bill. There are many provisions in it which time does not allow me to touch upon. I now propose to say a few words, in con- clusion, by way of answer in anticipation to some of the objections that may possibly be urged against this Bill. Your Lordships may possibly be told by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that the Law of Copyright bristles with points of difficulty. I am not concerned to deny that this is so. But surely the difficulty of a question is not to be urged as a reason why your Lordships should not attempt to deal with it. Your Lordships have plenty of time and leisure to take up this question, and I do not see why you should not do so. A Judge cannot refuse to decide a cause on the ground that it bristles with points of difficulty, and surely, if I can make out a strong case for legislation, your Lordships are not absolved from the duties of legislation on account of the difficulties involved. I may, perhaps, be told that this Bill attempts too much—that the law ought first to be consolidated, and then amended by a separate measure. In some cases that may be the most convenient plan to adopt, but we must remember that the law down to 1878 has already been codified by Sir James Stephen. But, my Lords, I do not stand upon that Code. I say that the present law is so cram full of utterly indefensible arbitrary distinctions, that to put all of them side by side within the four corners of a consolidating Statute would be to produce an Act that would be the laughing-stock of the youngest law student. The law is in such a state that we cannot for very shame consolidate without amending it, and that has been the opinion of every copyright reformer who has introduced Bills since the Report of the Commission, including the Duke of Rutland and the noble and learned Lord (Lord Herschell). Then, I may be told by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Knutsford) that he is unable to make up his mind what to do as to a licensing system for the colonies. On this point the Society of Authors sympathises deeply with Lord Knutsford. They also have found themselves unable to formulate any system of licensing. But if we are to wait till we can get a complete and perfect measure that satisfies every one, reform of the Copyright Law must, indeed, be relegated to a dim and remote future. With regard to the licensing question, there are, after all, only two courses open to the noble Lord (Lord Knutsford); he must either do something or nothing. If he does something he can incorporate his plan in this Bill; if he does nothing this Bill would not interfere with him, for the measure does not propose to do anything. The passing of the Bill would leave the noble Lord with as ample an opportunity of making up his mind, or delaying to make up his mind, as he now possesses. Why, my Lords, should not this Bill be passed through your Lordships' House now? What is there to wait for? International copyright, under the Convention of Berne, has now been in force for five years, and that much-expected Statute, the American Act, has been passed. I think I have given strong reasons why this House should promptly take in hand the great question of copyright reform. This House is, I venture to say, peculiarly fitted to deal with the question. Your Lordships were in thorough sympathy with the just claims of literature and art, and are perfectly capable—much more capable than is the House of Commons—of elaborating a just and useful measure. It is true that the old-fashioned modes of patronage are at an end. Authors are no longer driven to earn a livelihood by dedicating their works to your Lordships; they now appeal for patronage and support, not to the few, but to the many. If your Lordships go to the theatre you are no longer accorded special places on the stage. But your Lordships, as a Legislative Body, can do inestimable service to the cause of literature and art. In your capacity of legislators you can still exert your influence to see that justice is done to persons to whom the community are deeply indebted for instruction and entertainment. There are noble and learned Lords in this House who are peculiarly fitted to criticise and amend such a Bill as this. It is not a question on which there can be any jealousy between the two Houses. I believe the House of Commons would willingly accept any measure that had been well thought out and discussed in your Lordships' House. But whether I am right in that or not, let us, at all events, leave to the other House the grave responsibility of refusing to amend a law which is positively grotesque in its absurdity and injustice. I ask your Lordships to do what in you lies to secure to literature and art their just reward, and to make the Law of Copyright an ornament instead of a disgrace to the Statute Book. I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

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


My Lords, I am able to go some distance with the noble Lord who has just spoken, and some distance, at any rate, in his criticism, I might almost say denunciation, of the existing state of the law on the subject of copyright. I am quite willing to admit that it needs consolidation, and that it needs amendment. The noble Lord has stated that the Acts which deal with the subject are many in number, that they are not always consistent with honour, that in some respects they are unsatisfactory, and that in other respects they are ineffective; and he has told your Lordships there are Common Law principles which can only be ascertained by laborious search through the Law Reports. Also it is the case that the law as it stands contains many arbitrary distinctions. The copyright in books may either be for the life of the author, and seven years afterwards, or for 42 years from the date of publication. There are differences in the duration of copyright as regards lectures, engravings, and sculpture; and musical copyright, as the noble Lord has said, is in a most unsatisfactory and uncertain condition. There are differences in the law, as he has told you, as regards the necessity of registration in the case of books, of paintings, and of dramatic works. But I am not able to go much further in agreement with the noble Lord. I think the very fact which he mentioned—that, in spite of a very large and influential Commission having sat upon the subject for more than two years some 12 years ago, and in spite of a demand from many quarters, nothing has been done, even on the lines of that Commission—is in itself a proof, if any proof were needed, that these matters are highly contentious and very difficult of arrangement. Bills have been introduced in 1881, and many subsequent proposals have been made, for the amendment of the law, but nothing has been done up to the present time. I join issue with the noble Lord upon the matter of procedure. He has anticipated an objection that may be urged against him that this Bill is not only a consolidating but an amending Bill: and I understood him to suggest as an alternative course that Parliament should be asked first to consolidate and then to amend.


No. I said it would be impossible to do so, because the law, as it stands, is so absurd that you cannot consolidate it without amending it.


To consolidate the law and then to amend it would be to get rid of confusion in one year, only to find it re-introduced immediately afterwards. I do not think a Bill on so highly contentious a subject could be got through Parliament within the limits of one Session if it attempts both consolidation and amendment; and I would suggest that the preferable course would be that a Bill should be brought in dealing with those points which are contentious and of the greatest importance, and that thereafter the law should be consolidated. There would be no difficulty in arranging that the amending Bill and the consolidating Bill, once the principles were agreed upon, should come into force at the same time. I think there are great disadvantages in attempting simultaneously to consolidate and to amend the law on a subject of this magnitude, because by so doing you greatly widen the subject of controversy, and it would be far better to deal with those matters, which are matters of controversy, in the first instance, and then afterwards to embody them in a consolidating Bill. I am sure that your Lordships, who have listened to the speech of the noble Lord, must have arrived at the conclusion that these matters are not only highly contentious, but are most complicated, and that they raise many difficult questions of policy. I venture to say that so much is that the case that it is quite impossible for a private Member, certainly of the other House of Parliament, and, I venture to think, for one possessing the knowledge which the noble Lord has shown in this House, to deal with the representations and memorials, and even, I might say, the probable deputations which would come upon him if it were known that this Bill was really being pressed forward. It touches so many interests that I cannot suppose that the resources of a private Member would be adequate to cope with them. And not only are there questions of law and private policy, but matters of Imperial and colonial policy come into the field. Then, my Lords, even if these objections which I have put before the House do not prevail, I would venture to add another objection, and to suggest that the time at which this Bill is brought forward is not opportune. The noble Lord opposite referred to the American law which has recently passed through their Legislature. But we do not know now the effect of that Act upon our trade. It may be as little as the noble Lord hopes, and I sincerely join with him in the expression of that hope; but certainly the law has not yet come into operation, and we cannot tell what the effect of it will be. I said just now that matters of Imperial policy were also concerned. I believe I am correct in stating that Canada is not satisfied with her position in connection with the provisions of the Berne Convention, and that requests have been made for an alteration on that point. If we begin amending or consolidating the law at the present time when subjects of that kind are under discussion with our colonies, we shall add greatly to the friction existing and to the difficulty of passing such a Bill at the present time. In the Bill itself there are many things of which the Department I have the honour to represent cannot possibly approve. There is one part of the Bill to which I do not think the noble Lord referred in his speech, that is to say, the part which deals with the matter of registration. He himself seems to have-some doubts and misgivings as to whether it is wise to put it forward. I venture to think there can be no doubt whatever that if the provisions in the Bill as they now stand were to be; enacted, they would cast a serious charge upon the public funds of this country, which should not, I think, be proposed at the instance of a private Member, and which perhaps ought not to be brought forward at all, in the first instance, in this House. Something of this kind seems to have been in the minds of the framers of the Bill, because in the pre- liminary Memorandum attached to the Bill I find this sentence— With regard to registration, the Bill (as was recommended by the Royal Commission) provides for the establishment of a Copyright Registration Office under the control of Government in lieu of the present office at Stationers' Hall, established under 5 and 6 Vict. c. 45. It is felt, however, that the details and formalities of any scheme of registration can only be satisfactorily settled by Government officials, and the provisions of Part V. of the Bill are put forward rather by way of suggestion than as a definitely settled scheme. It may be found desirable, either now or hereafter, to combine the Copyright Registration Office with the Registry of Designs and Trade Marks, and this part of the Bill has, therefore, as far as possible, been modelled on the corresponding provisions of the Patents Designs and Trade Marks Act, 1883. I am quite certain that a very great deal of discussion and consideration would be required before anything of the nature of a change such as is suggested in this part of the Bill could possibly be accepted. My Lords, I am far from saying that there are not some valuable proposals in the Bill; but I am not able to share in the praise which the noble Lord gives to the draughtsman. We have been told at an earlier period of this evening that doctors differ. I am afraid that differences between men of a trade or profession are not confined to doctors. I have heard draughtsmen differ very seriously, and I have been informed by the comments which I have seen upon this Bill that of the 96 clauses which it contains there are serious objections taken to more than 50 of them, in substance as well as in form. So much is that the case that we believe it would be far easier to draft a new Bill altogether than to endeavour to amend the provisions of this Bill and to bring it into conformity with anything which is likely to be accepted. Under these circumstances, I venture to suggest that it would not be wise to hold out any hopes that this Bill can possibly become law in the present Session, or that in fact it is worth your Lordships' while to proceed further on this occasion. I am inclined to think that to do so would be to lay a very great deal of work upon the House and the Standing Committee —work which the House and the Standing Committee would probably not object to if it were to serve any useful purpose; but work which I believe would be almost entirely thrown away. Under these circumstances, without going into the details of the Bill, I venture to suggest to the noble Lord opposite that he should be satisfied with having explained the principles of the Bill, and should not seek to press it further during the present Session.


The noble Lord who has just sat down has urged my noble Friend to be very easily satisfied; I think he might as well have urged him to be satisfied with nothing. I shall make no apology for taking part in this discussion, because it is a subject in which I have been long interested, and in which I have the natural interest of one who gave a considerable amount of time to the consideration of the question as a member of the Royal Commission some fourteen years ago, and who is, therefore, naturally anxious to see some fruits at least of the labour that was then bestowed. I have never lost sight of this question from that time, and I have always been anxious to see some effect given to the recommendations of the Royal Commissioners. It certainly is not very gratifying to one's national pride to find that when a Royal Commission pointed out that the law was grotesque and mischievous, and urgently required amendment, we should, 13 years afterwards, when it is sought to come to a conclusion upon the matter, be invited to sit with our hands quietly folded, and not attempt to make the law any better than it is. Surely the Legislature exists for the purpose of remedying imperfect and mischievous legislation. For what are we assembled here from Session to Session except to make the law, in our judgment, better than it is? I am, therefore, a little mortified to find that the speech of the noble Lord the Representative of the Board of Trade is one of a character which is perfectly well understood. I do not want to represent for a moment that the Department to which I belong has any objection to legislation, or that it does not recognise that the law is at present in an imperfect condition; we rather think it should be amended; but we would rather see this Bill stifled and put an end to, and at some future time, in some unsuggested way, in some undefined manner, the law may come to be better than it is. I should have thought, at least, we should have been told that Her Majesty's Government would have felt themselves prepared to deal with it. I quite agree with what the noble Lord has said, that if the Government should take it up and deal with it they would be in a much better position to do it than any private Member of Parliament, and I am quite certain that, upon such an assurance being given, my noble Friend would be prepared to stand out of the way and leave the Government to act in his stead. I have been expecting certainly to hear for a long time of the introduction of a Copyright Bill by the Government, and especially by that Department to which the noble Lord belongs. I may say that I have been in communication with those who are interested in the subject, and I was prepared myself, a year after I came into your Lordships' House, to take up the matter; but I was told that those with whom I was dealing were themselves in communication with the Board of Trade, and under those circumstances I said I should be only too happy to leave the matter in their hands, and not touch it myself. Every Session since then I have had some faint hope that at last such a Bill as that would see the light; but the noble Lord does not give any such hope to-night even in what I may call the distant future. As every one admits that the law ought not to be allowed to stand as it now stands, can any good reason be given why an effort should not be made to alter it? As far as public announcements go, it would strike one that the programme of Her Majesty's Government is approaching its end; there is not very much ahead that we have had any intimation of; why should not the Government, upon such a subject as this law, be ready. to endeavour to put it in a satisfactory fashion upon the Statute Book? It is a matter of interest to authors, who certainly, on account of the great advantages which we derive from their work, deserve consideration at the hands of the Legislature, and it is for the advantage of the public, too, that this matter should be settled and the law amended. I quite admit there are difficulties, although I do not think those difficulties are so formidable as they are represented to be by the noble Lord. A great many would, I think, vanish if it were known that there was a resolute earnest endeavour to grapple with and conquer them. And, as regards the thorny questions to which my noble Friend has alluded, they are not really so very enormous. He stated that 50 out of the 96 clauses of the Bill were open to objection. I do not know what are the particular points of objection alluded to; but, knowing something of the subject, I think the really difficult ones come to no more than three or four. I cannot agree with the noble Lord either that it would be impossible to deal at once with a Bill which was an amending and a consolidating Bill. No doubt there have been some controversies, but if your Lordships could settle those controversies there would be no difficulty about a Bill which was both consolidating and amending. Then there is some force in what the noble Lord said also upon the other point—that such a Bill could be better dealt with by Her Majesty's Government than by a private Member of either this or the other House of Parliament, and that, as this Bill has colonial and international aspects, and there is always a difficulty and delicacy in dealing with those questions, the Government are always in a better position to deal with them, and they would be more satisfactorily dealt with, I quite admit, in their hands than in the manner in which it would be necessary to deal with them if they were left in the hands of a private Member. Probably that part of the Bill might be left entirely to the control of the Government, the other part being taken up by a private Member. But the matter cannot be left much longer in the condition in which it now is. It would be, of course, impossible to put forward a promise of immediate legislation; such promises ought, of course, not to be lightly given; but I would press upon Her Majesty's Government, seeing the urgency of this question—as there must come under their consideration, if not at present, very shortly, the international and colonial aspect of these questions—it would be a matter of very great satisfaction if they could give the public an assurance that in taking these matters into their consideration they would be prepared to deal with the whole subject in a comprehensive fashion.


My Lords, I recognise the candour of my noble and learned Friend in the closing observations which he made. I do not deny that there is a great deal to be said in respect of the delay of 13 years—for which, however, I think Her Majesty's present Administration are not entirely responsible—in attempting to carry into effect the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I a little regret the somewhat aggressive tone of the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill to your Lordships' notice. I believe we are all, on both sides of the House, entirely impressed with the importance of the subject and with the necessity of dealing with it, but the noble Lord must know that a great many questions arise in a Bill of this sort, on which there is great divergence of opinion. I am myself disposed to think that it would be rash for any Government to attempt to deal with the question without endeavouring to ascertain the views of many of those who are interested in it. After the lapse of 13 years, it by no means follows that those who entertained certain views at that time entertain them now. A great deal has happened since 13 years ago, and, as the noble and learned Lord knows, many very different theories have been now started with regard to the usefulness of various provisions in the Bill, and, as I have said, it by no means follows that because certain views were entertained 13 years ago they would be found to be entertained now. I am not going to take the responsibility of moving the rejection of this Bill on the Second Reading, and I think the trouble the noble Lord has taken, and the amount of labour he has bestowed in bringing a Bill of this sort before your Lordships, would be very ill-requited if it were summarily rejected without some recognition. I cannot help saying that there are some provisions in it which I should myself oppose if it were a question of agreeing upon clauses; and I will state the reasons why I think it would be very desirable for the noble Lord not to insist upon proceeding further than the Second Reading of his Bill, which in a great measure deals with contentious matters. As has been said by the noble Lord who represents the Board of Trade, the Bill contains undoubtedly a great many matters of considerable difficulty and importance. The Standing Committee would, I have no doubt, faithfully do its duty in that respect, and the probability is that there would be a great many Divisions in that Committee upon the various provisions in this Bill, and a great deal of trouble taken in respect of it. There would be controversies, and I am quite sure those controversies would be renewed in this House afterwards, and the notion of passing such a Bill as this now introduced, a Bill so complex, and comprehending so many subjects of difficulty and importance, is, I think, hopeless. Its being brought forward now, in the middle of May, renders it absolutely impossible it could pass into law; and I do not think, until those questions which are the subject of controversy have been solved in some way or other, that the sending of the Bill to the Standing Committee would facilitate its passing in the future. Let me call attention to two matters which the noble Lord himself referred to—the international aspect of the Bill and the inter-colonial relations affected by it. The noble Lord has himself pointed out that by the American Bill international copyright is not to exist unless similar provisions are made in an English Act; and the noble Lord invites us to pass this Bill before the 1st July, because, unless we do so, we shall lose the benefit of the international copyright law as regards the United States. That is one matter. Then the colonies themselves may resent not being consulted upon the difficulties which arise under the Copyright Law. That I grant is not a reason why the difficulties should not be solved. I think they ought to be solved; and, in going so far with the noble and learned Lord, I will assure him that the matter has not been lost sight of. I will go so far as to say, in answer to Lord Herschell, that the matter is occupying the attention of some of the Members of Her Majesty's Government, with the strongest desire to put the matter in shape for legislation; but I think I ought not to be called upon to give a pledge to introduce a Bill on the subject. All I can say is that the subject is occupying the attention of the Government, and that such measures as are possible will be adopted. If it be possible, legislation will be proposed, but in view of the difficulties of the case, I would invite the noble Lord, for his own sake and for the sake of the subject, not to insist on going forward with the Bill through the Standing Committee, because the discussions there would be certain to arise afterwards in the House, and altogether such a course would be more likely to delay and prevent than to facilitate legislation. For the reasons I have mentioned and on account of the difficulties and anomalies to which he has called attention now existing in the law, and which I think throw great doubt upon the advisability of Her Majesty's Government or any other Administration attempting hastily to deal with it, I am unable to give any pledge. I can do no more at present than say it is occupying their attention, and again invite the noble Lord not to insist upon going further with the Bill.


I quite agree as to the difficulty of dealing with this subject, but I do not concur with the noble and learned Lord's remarks as to sending it to the Standing Committee. I do not think this is a Bill which could be effectively dealt with in Standing Committee. I believe if a Bill is to be brought in upon this subject, even if it were a Bill emanating from Her Majesty's Government, it should go to a Select Committee, and that Select Committee should take evidence upon it. As the noble and learned Lord has just said, it would be impossible for anybody to proceed in the matter without having first ascertained clearly, as far as they Could be ascertained, what were the wishes of the various classes of people who are affected by the Bill, and I do not think that could be effectively done unless by a Select Committee. Probably it would be too late in the present Session to proceed in such a manner as that; but I hope Her Majesty's Government will consider whether next Session a Bill might not be introduced by themselves on the subject, or, if not, that a Bill might be allowed to be introduced by a private Member, and then sent to a Select Committee. I may, perhaps, mention that some years ago a Bill was introduced by Lord Westbury, and was sent to a Select Committee; but there were great objections to that Bill, and, in consequence of the objections which I myself made in the Select Committee, the Bill was eventually withdrawn. But that is a long time ago, and, as the noble and learned Lord has said, the law has now taken quite a different shape. I was rather alarmed at first at the way in which the noble and learned Lord alluded to the very important question of the American law. I now understand that that matter is under the immediate consideration of Her Majesty's Government; but I am quite certain that, whatever may be the proper course to be taken with regard to the amendment of the law—and I express no opinion upon the subject—it is, at all events, not a matter which can be left long without being dealt with. It is quite clear that there is a strong expectation on the part of authors in this country that they will obtain the benefit of that Act, and it is quite obvious that any decision Her Majesty's Government may come to ought to be announced at as early a period as possible, for if not, there would certainly be found Members in one or other of the Houses of Parliament to bring the subject under the notice of the Legislature. I hope, therefore, we may anticipate that before a very long time has elapsed we] shall hear what are the views of Her Majesty's Government upon the matter, and. whether or not they intend to legislate upon it.


My Lords, I exceedingly regret that anything in the tone of my remarks should have had the very unintentional effect of giving umbrage to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. Such, certainly, was not my intention. With regard to the suggestion he has made, I am willing to avail myself of the condition he desires I should accept, namely, to give a pledge that I will not ask your Lordships to proceed further with the Bill this Session if it is now read a second time.

On Question, agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly.

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