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  • Writer's pictureChristopher G. Moore

The Heart of Copyright for Authors

I am grateful to Professor David Vaver, who holds the Chair in Intellectual Property Law, Oxford University, for drawing to my attention the speech of delivered in the House of Commons on the 5th of February 1841. Professor writes that this is the best piece on copyright term still is Macaulay's first speech to the Commons in 1861 when Talfourd moved to have a copyright term of life plus 60.

In the case of copyright, the questions are many. A central issue is the duration of the copyright. How many years should an author and his heirs hold a copyright to a book? Macaulay’s speech is one that should be read not only for its elegance and insight but for the rational, logical assembly of law, history and culture to make an argument that carried the day in the House of Commons. One wonders if there are modern day Macaulays, and if so, why such people no longer stand for election.

Copyright 1841

“The advantages arising from a system of copyright are obvious. It is desirable that we should have a supply of good books; we cannot have such a supply unless men of letters are liberally remunerated; and the least objectionable way of remunerating them is by means of copyright. You cannot depend for literary instruction and amusement on the leisure of men occupied in the pursuits of active life. Such men may occasionally produce compositions of great merit. But you must not look to such men for works which require deep meditation and long research. Works of that kind you can expect only from persons who make literature the business of their lives. Of these persons few will be found among the rich and the noble. The rich and the noble are not impelled to intellectual exertion by necessity. They may be impelled to intellectual exertion by the desire of distinguishing themselves, or by the desire of benefiting the community. But it is generally within these walls that they seek to signalize themselves and to serve their fellow-creatures. Both their ambition and their public spirit, in a country like this, naturally take a political turn. It is then on men whose profession is literature, and whose private means are not ample, that you must rely for a supply of valuable books. Such men must be remunerated for their literary labour. And there are only two ways in which they can be remunerated. One of those ways is patronage; the other is copyright.”

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