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Insurance Against Piracy of Brains

May 1893 — World’s Congress of Representative Women, Chicago IL

 

More and more are authors finding out that, in order to bring about legal recognition of the fact that brain materialized in books is property, they must band together to secure that recognition.
 
When one writes a book, or contributes to a newspaper or periodical, his brain-product should be recognized as property, whether it bears the stamp of a government copy right or not. As it is now, he is poached upon by every conscienceless purveyor who would get brain-wares without compensation to the owner.
 
When a farmer goes to market with a load of cabbages he has a legal right in his particular product. Whoever steals a cabbage is amenable to law. The farmer may call to his aid the servants of the law, arrest and punish the depredator, and collect the price of his product. When an author writes a book, or prepares an article, which has cost much labor and research, and takes his product to market, he is without any adequate protection from the pilfering hordes of publishers and syndicates.
 
Our laws, national and international, are so framed as to protect the rights of property in material things. Lands, houses, manufactured goods, things that you can touch, see, and feel, these are the things over which the law keeps sacred trust. What cares the law for a story, or a song, or the bread that comes down from heaven?
 
The poorest paid, the most defenseless, often the most dejected of his race is the man whose name is emblazoned on books, or heralded through public prints. He may sow, but others reap; he may think, but others revel in the profits thereof.
 
Patentees are protected against infringement, but who protects the author from infringement upon his thoughts ? His works are stolen bodily, or are abstracted in part ; or they are condensed, made over, and sold as original products.
 
A copyright on books or articles for the public press affords little protection to the author. Virtually there is no protection, since to defend his rights from encroachment an author must employ attorneys and conduct an expensive suit. The lack of an international copyright makes the situation of the author worse, as the robbers of foreign authors, by putting the stolen products of famous pens on the market, rob at the same time the unprotected American writers at home.
 
The first American sales of “Robert Elsmere” amounted to 200,000 copies, and under proper protective laws the profit to the author, through the usual 10 per cent royalty on the sales, would have reached $20,000. What the author, Mrs. Humphrey Ward, really received was $500. The dealers in stolen goods realized $19,500 on filchings alone.
 
There is not one American author who would impose restrictions to keep out the works of foreign writers. Let their books come over, but let the authors have their profits. We want our Brownings, our Blackmores, our Mrs. Wards, and our Jean Ingelows; but we want them to receive the rewards of their labors. We do not want their unpaid labors used to lower the prices and profits of brain-work in our home market. No adequate legislation will ever be enacted on behalf of our underpaid authors and writers until they, themselves, are fully aware of the disadvantages under which they suffer, and band themselves together to define, establish, and maintain their rights.
 
Not only should they unite and organize, but they should educate. They should take the reading public into their confidence. They should appeal to the sturdy sense of fair play, which is the underlying motive-power of our race and nation, and ask the cooperation of the reading masses in their righteous crusade. They should ask their aid in securing such legislative enactments as would, by regular process of law, protect an author in his right to the products of his brain. In order to give this aid, the reading public must first learn of the wrongs under which authors and writers now suffer. When this lesson is learned, the .pur chasers of books and periodicals will no more think of filling up libraries and reading-rooms, public and private, with filched literature than they would of stocking up their medicine-shelves with stolen remedies and prescriptions.
 
There should be a general law whereby a writer should receive a percentage or royalty upon whatever is published over his name, and upon whatever is written by him, whenever published, copied, or rehashed for public purposes. As it is now, an author gets a nominal sum for his books from his publisher, while his sole future consideration is the proud satisfaction of having his work torn up piece meal and devoured by the public in tidbits, without any pecuniary returns to himself.
 
The magazine and newspaper contributors fare even worse, and all they print is the common property or prey of the public press. Civilization is justice reduced to a system. In our present dealing with authors we are but half civilized. Sad- hearted and discouraged, many geniuses are passing through life unappreciated, unpaid, and unknown. When they are gone epitaphs will be written, and their bones will be laid in hallowed places. Authorship is not yet a calling; it is an episode. Its products have no place among merchantable wares. It has no place in the organized activities of our country.

 

 

Source: The World’s Congress of Representative Women, (Rand, McNally & Co), 1894, pp. 158–161.