Macaulay on Copyright Extensions

DECEMBER 6, 2004

Here is Lord Macaulay (unsuccessfully) opposing an extension of copyright term from 28 to 60 years in the 1840s:

It is good that authors should be remunerated, and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil: but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good


Dr Johnson died 56 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 assignee of antoher bookseller, who was the grandson son a third bookseller, who had bought the copyright from Black Frank, the Doctor’s servant and residuary legatee in 1785 and 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 cheered him in a fit of 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.