Reference > Quotations > S. Austin Allibone, comp. > Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay
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S. Austin Allibone, comp.  Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay.  1880.
 
Copyright
 
  When a man by the exertion of his rational powers has produced an original work, he seems to have clearly a right to dispose of that identical work as he pleases, and any attempt to vary the disposition he has made of it appears to be an invasion of that right. Now, the identity of a literary composition consists entirely in the sentiment and the language: the same conceptions, clothed in the same words, must necessarily be the same composition; and whatever method be taken of exhibiting that composition to the ear or the eye of another, by recital, by writing, or by printing, in any number of copies, or at any period of time, it is always the identical work of the author which is so exhibited; and no other man (it hath been thought) can have a right to exhibit it, especially for profit, without the author’s consent.
Sir William Blackstone: Comment., book ii. chap. 26.    
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  Now, this is the sort of boon which my honourable and learned friend holds out to authors. Considered as a boon to them it is a mere nullity; but considered as an impost on the public it is no nullity, but a very serious and pernicious reality. I will take an example. Dr. Johnson died fifty-six years ago. If the law were what my honourable and learned friend wishes to make it, somebody would now have the monopoly of Dr. Johnson’s works. Who that somebody would be it is impossible to say; but we may venture to guess. I guess, then, that it would have been some bookseller, who was the assign of another bookseller, who was the grandson of a third bookseller, who had bought the copyright from Black Frank, the doctor’s servant and residuary legatee, in 1785 or 1786. Now, would the knowledge that this copyright would exist in 1841 have been a source of gratification to Johnson? Would it have stimulated his exertions? Would it have once drawn him out of his bed before noon? Would it have once cheered him under a fit of the spleen? Would it have induced him to give us one more allegory, one more life of a poet, one more imitation of Juvenal? I firmly believe not. I firmly believe that a hundred years ago, when he was writing out debates for the Gentleman’s Magazine, he would very much rather have had twopence to buy a plate of shin of beef at a cook’s shop underground. Considered as a reward to him, the difference between a twenty years’ and sixty years’ term of posthumous copyright would have been nothing, or next to nothing. But is the difference nothing to us? I can buy Rasselas for sixpence: I might have had to give five shillings for it. I can buy the Dictionary, the entire genuine Dictionary, for two guineas, perhaps for less; I might have had to give five or six guineas for it. Do I grudge this to a man like Dr. Johnson? Not at all. Show me that the prospect of this boon roused him to any vigorous effort, or sustained his spirits under depressing circumstances, and I am quite willing to pay the price of such an object, heavy as that price is. But what I do complain of is that my circumstances are to be worse and Johnson’s none the better; that I am to give five pounds for what to him was not worth a farthing.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Speech on Copyright, Feb. 5, 1841.    
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  My honourable and learned friend dwells on the claims of the posterity of great writers. Undoubtedly, Sir, it would be very pleasing to see a descendant of Shakspeare living in opulence on the fruits of his great ancestor’s genius. A house maintained in splendour by such a patrimony would be a more interesting and striking object than Blenheim is to us, or than Strathfieldsaye will be to our children. But, unhappily, it is scarcely possible that, under any system, such a thing can come to pass. My honourable and learned friend does not propose that copyright shall descend to the eldest son, or shall be bound up by irrevocable entail. It is to be merely personal property. It is therefore highly improbable that it will descend during sixty years or half that term from parent to child. The chance is that more people than one will have an interest in it. They will in all probability sell it and divide the proceeds. The price which a bookseller will give for it will bear no proportion to the sum which he will afterwards draw from the public if his speculation proves successful. He will give little, if anything, more for a term of sixty years than for a term of thirty or five-and-twenty. The present value of a distant advantage is always small; but where there is great room to doubt whether a distant advantage will be any advantage at all, the present value sinks to almost nothing. Such is the inconstancy of the public taste that no sensible man will venture to pronounce with confidence what the sale of any book published in our days will be in the years between 1890 and 1900. The whole fashion of thinking and writing has often undergone a change in a much shorter period than that to which my honourable and learned friend would extend posthumous copyright. What would have been considered the best literary property in the earlier part of Charles the Second’s reign? I imagine, Cowley’s Poems. Overleap sixty years, and you are in the generation of which Pope asked, “Who now reads Cowley?” What works were ever expected with more impatience by the public than those of Lord Bolingbroke, which appeared, I think, in 1754? In 1814 no bookseller would have thanked you for the copyright of them all, if you had offered it to him for nothing. What would Paternoster Row give now for the copyright of Hayley’s Triumphs of Temper, so much admired within the memory of people still living? I say, therefore, that from the very nature of literary property it will almost always pass away from an author’s family; and I say that the price given for it will bear a very small proportion to the tax which the purchaser, if his speculation turns out well, will in the course of a long series of years levy on the public.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Speech on Copyright, Feb. 5, 1841.    
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  The principle of copyright is this: It is a tax on readers for the purpose of giving a bounty to writers. The tax is an exceedingly bad one; it is a tax on one of the most innocent and most salutary of human pleasures; and never let us forget that a tax on innocent pleasures is a premium on vicious pleasures. I admit, however, the necessity of giving a bounty to genius and learning. In order to give such a bounty I willingly submit even to this severe and burdensome tax. Nay, I am ready to increase the tax if it can be shown that by so doing I should proportionally increase the bounty.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Speech on Copyright, Feb. 5, 1841.    
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