Extracts from the Report of the 1876-1878 Royal Commission on Copyright

OCTOBER 4, 2006

1876-1878 Commision on Copyright. Metadata: http://www.bopcris.ac.uk/bop1833/ref2103.html

My copy came from Cambridge University Library.

Main Report

General Remarks:

  • Contains summary in appendix of the law up to that point in a form of a digest
  • NO discussion of principles at all and very little hard evidence

Their comments on existing law (vii, para 7-9):

The first observation which a study of the existing law suggests is that its form, as distinguished from its substance, seems to us bad. The law is wholly destitute of any sort of arrangement, incomplete, often obscure, and even when it is intelligible upon long study, it is in many parts so ill-expressed that no one who does not give it such study to it can expect to understand it.

The common law principles which lie at the root of the law have nevere been settleed. The well-known cases of Millar v. Taylor, Donaldson v. Becket, and Jeffries v. Boosey, ended in a difference of opinion amongst many of the most eminent judges who have ever sat upon the Bench.

The fourteen Acts of Parliament which deal with the subject were passed at different times between 1735 and 1875. They are drawn in different styles, and some are dwan so as to be hardly intelligible. Obscurity of style, however, is only one of the defects of these Acts. Their arrangement is often worse than their style. Of this the Copyright Act of 1842 is a conspicuous instance.

The need for copyright protection (viii-ix): Taking the law as it stands, we entertain no doubt that the interest of authors and of the public alike requires that some specific protection should be afforded by legislation to owners of copyright; and we have at the the conclusion that copyright should continue to be treated as a proprietary right, and that it is not expedient to substitute a right to a royalty defined by statute, or any other right of similar kind.

p. ix: dismiss royalty system - though not for great reason and without any evaluation of its costs and benefits - on the classic grounds that no-one else is doing it.

p.x-xii: should extend and harmonize terms to life + 30 years. Note that most other countries have longer terms (except US and Canada)

should introduce compulsory registration and modernize the registration system.

p. xxxvi ff.: ‘The American Question’

  • Interesting discussion of the US situation.
  • However there is a rather serious lack of HARD evidence
  • advocate strongly a copyright treaty with the US and state that British authors are being damaged by not having protection

Separate (Dissenting) Report by Sir Louis Mallet:

  • excellent, need i say more than the person has some acquaintance with economic reasoning and actually applies himself to the principles. It is amazing - it’s all there, all the arguments of a century later.
  • every para is worth quoting but i shall confine myself
  • [xlvi]: I do not consider that a copyright law, or, in other words, a law which enables a copyright owner to prevent other persons from copying published works, rest upon the same rounds of public expediency as those which justify the recognition by law of proprietary rights generally. Nor does it appear that in modern times it has been ever so regarded by the legislation of the countries where it exists.
  • [xlix para 15]: From this point of view the question becomes a purely practical one, viz., whether any special interference by law is required to ensure for a community the best possible literature at the cheapest possible price.
  • [l para 32]: A monopoly should never be created with the view of remunerating a person or class, if that object can be effected without it; the profits of authorship are one thing, and the profits of publication another; and even if some form of monopoly is necessary to protect the first, it is equally desirable, in the interest of the author and that of the public, that the profits of publication, which are purely of a commercial character, should be regulated and controlled by the ordinary laws of trade.
  • [li para 35]: In the two great markets for English literature, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, the existing system has been described as one of monopoly tempered by piracy.