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.
An interesting account of the Canadian side of 19th century trans-Atlantic book piracy (from Rowland Lorimer’s Ultra Libris)
It was routine for [Canadian] booksellers to sell pirated editions of British titles, produced in and imported from the United States, rather than importing from Britain. Like European countries of the time, the United States did not recognize British copyright law. Nor did Britain recognize the copyright laws of other countries, the United States included. The importation of pirated works into the British Empire (i.e., Canada), where U.K. copyright law clearly did hold, was a problematic but prevailing reality. Responding to intense lobbying by booksellers, and wanting some revenue rather than none, in 1847 the British passed the Foreign Reprints Act, which allowed booksellers to import pirated editions of U.K. books for a 12.5 percent tax. This act not only officially sidelined Canadian printers, but also hijacked a significant part of the pre-Confederation market from Canadian distributors of British works. A U.S. company could print and publish U.K. copyright books to be sold in Canada, but a Canadian company, because it was within the British Empire, could not print and publish the same titles…. Continue reading “Canadian Book Pirates”
You’ve heard of the big four record labels and probably the big six studios, but how about the big four textbook publishers: Pearson, Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt? I’m reading up on the publishing business in anticipation of our next project on access to educational materials in universities and, man, has this business gotten itself into a jam. And all very familiar sounding and all prior to any significant digital piracy in the textbook market. A key development, it seems, was the organization of the used textbook market in the late 1990s, which led to declining ‘sell-through’ of new copies of textbooks after the first year of introduction and a spiraling strategy of price increases and rapid releases of new editions—which exist solely to make the previous editions circulating in the used market obsolete. Here’s John Thompson’s account in Books in the Digital Age (2005). Continue reading “Sell-Through Breakdown”