WANTS PERPETUAL COPYRIGHT.
Mark Twain Gives Reasons to a House of Lords Committee.
LONDON, Apr. 3.—The Select Committee of the House of Lords on the Copyright bill met to-day and Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) was examined. He expressed the opinion that the copyright laws of Great Britain and the United States were now so nearly what they ought to be that they only needed one “commercially trifling but morally gigantic amendment in order to become perfect.” Mr. Clemens explained that the amendment would be the removal of the forty-two years’ limit and a return to perpetual copyright.
Mr. Clemens contended that there was no distinction between an author’s rights and any other kind of property. He did not believe that in the long run, the question of copyright or no copyright governed the price of a book. If perpetual copyright had been given to the works of Shakespeare, Mr. Clemens was confident that the Bard of Avon could still be in twenty-five styles and at twenty-five prices.
“The Bible,” he exclaimed, “is the only book possessing the fair and honorable grace of perpetual copyright, and that has not deprived the public of marvelously cheap editions.”
He then humorously argued that it was immoral to treat authors’ property different from any other. The State ought never to lower the standard of morality in this way, except “after deep and prayerful consideration of the possible results” and “after full persuasion that the money gained would be worth more than the morals.”
“So few books outlive the forty-two-year limit,” he said, “that the small resulting profit to the State is not worth consideration. It is a trifling sum which the richest nation on earth extracts from the pockets of the children of the little handful of illustrious authors whom she has produced in a century. Is it a matter of pride or congratulation that this ancient and moldy wrong should be suffered to continue?”
Replying to questions from Lord Monkswell, Lord Knutsford and others, Mr. Clemens explained that he would grant perpetuity on condition that a book were kept in print and a cheap edition published.
Lord Knutsford—Have you ever advanced the perpetual theory in the United States?
Mr. Clemens—I have never known any one to object to it when he came to consider how small an affair it is, and that it is useless to rob a man unless you can rob him largely.
Mr. Clemens evoked further laughter by declaring that in the United States his own books were taxed as “gas works.” He said he thought one-eighth of the original price would be a fair price for the cheap issue, which should be published thirty years after an author’s death.
[Note: Robert Collier, 2nd Lord Monkswell (1845-1909), British Liberal politician; Henry Holland, Lord Knutson (1825-1914) British Conservative politician.] See a more in-depth coverage of Sam’s remarks before the House of Lords in the NY Times article on p. BR7, Apr. 21, 1900.
Sam also visited Chatto & Windus, who made a memorandum of the visit and discussion about royalties and a new contract [Welland 202-3]. Note: see memorandum in Mar. 30 entry under “Welland.”
April 4 Wednesday – At 30 Wellington Court in London, England Sam wrote to George B. Harvey, at this time in London.
Dear Col. Harvey
After our conversation I will now state my desires, in the hope that it may be possible to grant them.
That there shall be no Canadian cheap edition.
That the proposed two books shall be compressed into one, and no cheap edition be issued.
In making the compression, that article on copyright should be left out and replaced by “My Campaign” (in the Civil War); the short story of “Luck” and the German English drama called “Meister Schaft.” The first and third of these were published in the “Century” and the “Luck” in Harper.
Further compression can be made by leaving out anything you please—grave matter like “Harriet Shelley &c preferably.
I should like to have 2 sets of these amended proofs to be sent to me.
Sincerely yours, S.L. Clemens
SLC used mourning border for most letters from Susy’s death on, then from Livy’s death on.