HL Deb 07 July 1919 vol 35 cc218-21

LORD ASKWITH rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether any steps will be taken to ensure that American authors, and such British authors as have first published works in the United States of America since 1916, shall not be deprived of copyright protection belonging to them under the subsisting Treaty or Agreement of 1912 by reason of the terms and results of the Embargo Act of 1916, which have prevented simultaneous publication; and whether provision can be made to prevent piracy of the works of these authors.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, only a few words will be necessary to explain the import of this Question on the subject of copyright between us and the United States. In 1916 books imported from the United States unfortunately had become a luxury in this country. Their importation was forbidden, and the effect of forbidding them was to interfere with the smooth working of the Copyright Act of 1912, and also with the Treaty or agreement or arrangement of reciprocity between this country and the United States of America. That arrangement or agreement started with a Despatch from Lord Salisbury as long ago as 1891, and I have understood that it was confirmed, after the Copyright Act was passed, in 1912. It was interfered with by us in the manner I have intimated. It has not been interfered with in the United States. In fact, I am given to understand that in the United States, in both Houses, Bills have been introduced which would give assistance to British authors who have published here and who have had their publications in the United States interfered with by the effects of the war.

I am anxious to know whether steps have been taken here, so as to give American authors who have published in the United States and who have been prevented from having copyright here, and British authors who have been forced by the difficulties of manufacture and publication here to resort to publication in the United States, to obtain their copyright here. It is partly a question of reciprocity and partly also a question of piracy. Anybody who was at the International Conference at Berlin in 1908 will know what an important question piracy was. Cribbing may be a most serious thing to a young author whose works are not protected, and also to an author who published a series of works. I shall be glad to know whether steps have been taken, or can be taken, to deal in the way of reciprocity with the United States of America, and also to prevent piracy being carried to undue lengths.


My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, who is an expert in this matter, and who has raised a question which I am sure we are all very glad to have raised, may I say that it was not quite clear at first sight what was referred to as the Treaty of Agreement of 1912.


It refers to the confirmation, as I understood it, which occurred in 1912 of Lord Salisbury's Despatch of 1891.


Under the Copyright Act, which was passed in 1911, works first published in the United States of America can obtain Copyright in this country by simultaneous publication within the parts of His Majesty's Dominion to which the Act extends; that is to say, publication must be made here not later than fourteen days after the publication in the United States of America, and copies could be imported in bulk for such purposes. Under the Proclamation of February 23, 1917, which is presumably the "Embargo Act of 1916" referred to by the noble Lord in the Question, importation of books was prohibited except in single copies through the post or under special license of the Board of Trade. But it was still possible to import copies for the purpose of simultaneous publication in Newfoundland or some other part of His Majesty's Dominions, other than Canada, in promixity to the United States. Further, it was possible to print an edition in this country for the purpose of simultaneous publication here. The prohibition of importation has now been withdrawn, and there is therefore no difficulty now in importing copies in bulk. Negotiations have been proceeding for some time with the United States Government with a view to conferring copyright upon all works first published in one of the two countries since the outbreak of war, which have by reason of war conditions, such as loss of mails, etc., failed to comply with the conditions of the law of the other country and consequently forfeited copyright there, and it is hoped that these negotiations will have a successful issue.

His Majesty's Government are fully alive to the importance of the question raised by Lord Askwith, and to the necessity of preventing any further continuance of piracy of works published during the war in either of the two countries. The negotiations with the United States Government to this end will be continued, and it is hoped may have a successful end. If the powers conferred upon His Majesty's Government by existing legislation are found to be insufficient the question of introducing additional legislation will receive careful attention. May I add that I shall be glad to confer privately with the noble Lord, if he desires further information, or to reply later to another Question, if he so prefers. I can at present add nothing to what I have said, which I trust he will regard as satisfactory.