Literary Copyright Reform in Early Victorian England: The Framing of the 1842 Copyright Act

By Catherine Seville | Go to book overview

8
THE MAKING OF THE CASE FOR THE BILL

PETITIONS–THOSE IN FAVOUR

Wordsworth's involvement provides a fascinating narrative of the bill's progress: the campaigning played a major part in the bill's eventual success. The petitions themselves are particularly worth studying for what they reveal about the ability of the literary world to unite–contrary to all previous history.1

Petitioning was a sensitive matter. There had been adverse comment in parliament about the lack of support from authors, who were supposedly the main beneficiaries of the changes. By 1838 only one petition had been received in favour of the copyright bill. This came from Samuel Wells, 'Barrister at Law and Register of the Honourable the Corporation of the Great Level of the Fens, called the Bedford Level'.2 Samuel Wells described himself as the author of 'a laborious work called the History of the Bedford Level', a book 'of slow sale and limited circulation'. He was working on another book, 'The History of the Revenue and Expenditure of the United Kingdom', which had already entailed great expense in preparation. His argument was that important

____________________
1
The international petitioning campaign was a partial exception. In 1837 Harriet Martineau organised a petition from English authors to Congress, demanding copyright for their works: she had spent time in America, and knew those involved in the campaign there, who were seeking the support of English authors. She wrote breathlessly to Mary Russell Mitford: 'Everybody is signing; and the case is so clear that I think you cannot hesitate' (9 November 1836). Henry Clay, chairman of the Select Committee of the Senate, submitted five bills between 1837 and 1842, but was defeated each time. Like Talfourd, Clay faced quantities of petitions and memorials from publishers, authors, and booksellers. See John Tebbel, A history of book publishing in the United States (1972), p. 558; James J. Barnes, Authors, publishers and politicians: the quest for an Anglo-American copyright agreement, 1815–54 (1974), p. 60.
2
5,956, presented 9 May 1838, App. 456.

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