Confederate Copyright Policy and the Limits of Dickens’ Abolitionism

Most histories of copyright discuss Dickens’ frustration with the lack of protection for international copyright in the 19th century US.  This I didn’t know:

Charles Dickens was an abolitionist and wrote of his feeling of the uncanny when encountering his first slave, serving him dinner at his hotel in Baltimore in 1842. Yet, when senators from the slave states assured him of their support for international copyright, he warmed up. His intense dislike of the Northern publishers, who chiseled him out of his royalties, encouraged his eventual support for the Southern cause during the Civil War. One might have thought that the Southern states had more pressing concerns in 1861 than copyright (just as one might have thought this about the French revolutionaries in 1791). But the political implications of copyright were significant enough to justify such an investment by the rebel politicians. With few publishing interests the South stood to lose little to copyright. To distinguish itself from the North, cultivate an aristocratic and nonmercantile national identity, and appeal to the British, the Confederacy passed an international copyright law, protecting foreign authors whose governments extended reciprocal protection to Americans. Southern gentlemen, one Confederate journalist claimed, would rather pay quintuple the price for a British edition than buy a pirated Yankee one.

From Peter Baldwin’s excellent The Copyright Wars: Three Centuries of Transatlantic Battle.

 

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