Online Encyclopedia

COPYRIGHT

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V07, Page 118 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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COPYRIGHT, in law, the right, belonging exclusively to the author or his assignees, of multiplying for sale copies of an original work or composition, in literature or art. As a recognized form of property it is, compared with others, of recent origin, being in fact, in the use of literary works, mainly the result of the facility for multiplying copies created by the discovery of printing. It is with copyright in literary compositions that we are here primarily concerned, as it was established first, the analogous right as regards works of plastic art, &c., following in its train. 1. Whether copyright was recognized at all by the common Iaw of England was long a much debated legal question. Black-stone thinks that this species of property, being grounded on labour and invention, is more properly reducible to the head of occupancy than any other, since the right of occupancy itself is supposed by Mr Locke and many others to be founded on the personal labour of the occupant." But he speaks doubtfully of its existence—merely mentioning the opposing views, " that on the one hand it hath been thought no other man can have a right to exhibit the author's work without his consent, and that it is urged on the other hand that the right is of too subtle and unsubstantial a nature to become the subject of property at the common law, and only capable of being guarded by positive statutes and special provisions of the magistrate." He notices that the Roman law adjudged that if one man wrote anything on the paper or parchment of another, the writing should belong to the owner of the blank materials, but as to any other property in the works of the understanding the law is silent, and he adds that" neither with us in England bath there been (till very lately) any final determination upon the rights of authors at the common law." The common law undoubtedly gives a right to restrain the publication of unpublished compositions; but when a work is once published, its protection depends on the statutes regulating copyright. The leading case on the subject of unpublished works is Prince Albert v. Strange (1849), 2 De G. & Sm. 652. Copies of etchings by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, which had been lithographed for private circulation, fell into the hands of the defendant, a London publisher, who proposed to exhibit them, and issued a catalogue entitled A Descriptive Catalogue of the Royal Victoria and Albert Gallery of Etchings. The court of chancery restrained the publication of the catalogue, holdingthat property in mechanical works, or works of art, does certainly subsist, and is invaded, before publication, not only by copying but by description or catalogue. This protection includes news (Exchange Telegraph Co. v. Central News, 1897). As a matter of principle, the nature of copyright itself, and the reasons why it should be recognized in law, have, as already stated, been the subject of bitter dispute. It was Ntr attacked as constituting a monopoly, and it has been right. of right. argued that copyright should be looked upon as a doubtful exception to the general law regulating trade, and should be strictly limited in point of duration. On the other hand, it is claimed that copyright, being in the nature of personal property, should be perpetual. A man's own work, in this view, is as much his as his house or his money, and should be protected by the state. Historically, and in legal definition, there would appear to be no doubt that copyright, as regulated by statute, is strictly a monopoly. The parliamentary protection of works of art for the period of fourteen years by an act of 1709 and later statutes appears, as Blackstone points out, to have been suggested by the exception in the Statute of Monopolies 1623. The object of that statute was to suppress the royal grants of exclusive right to trade in certain articles, and to reassert in relation to all such monopolies the common law of the land. Certain exceptions were made on grounds of public policy, and among others it was allowed that a royal patent of privilege might be granted for fourteen years " to any inventor of a new manufacture for the sole working or making of the same." Copyright, like patent right, would be covered by the legal definition of a monopoly. It is a mere right to prevent other people from manufacturing certain articles. But objections to monopolies in general do not apply to this particular class of cases, in which the author of a new work in literature or art has the right of preventing others from manufacturing copies thereof and selling them to the public. The rights of persons licensed to sell spirits, to hold theatrical exhibitions, &c., are also of the nature of monopolies, and may be defended on special grounds of public policy. The monopoly of authors and inventors rests on the general sentiment underlying all civilized law, that a man should be protected in the enjoyment of the fruits of his own labour.
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BENOIT CONSTANT COQUELIN (1841-1909)

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