Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910 Appendix N: Mark Twain and Copyright byPaine, Albert Bigelow
Concerning Copyright (1875)
(See Chapter cii)
TO THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES IN
We, your petitioners, do respectfully represent as follows, viz.: That
justice, plain and simple, is a thing which right-feeling men stand ready
at all times to accord to brothers and strangers alike. All such men
will concede that it is but plain, simple justice that American authors
should be protected by copyright in Europe; also, that European authors
should be protected by copyright here.
Both divisions of this proposition being true, it behooves our government
to concern itself with that division of it which comes peculiarly within
its province--viz., the latter moiety--and to grant to foreign authors
with all convenient despatch a full and effective copyright in America
without marring the grace of the act by stopping to inquire whether a
similar justice will be done our own authors by foreign governments. If
it were even known that those governments would not extend this justice
to us it would still not justify us in withholding this manifest right
from their authors. If a thing is right it ought to be done--the thing
called "expediency" or "policy" has no concern with such a matter. And
we desire to repeat, with all respect, that it is not a grace or a
privilege we ask for our foreign brethren, but a right--a right received
from God, and only denied them by man. We hold no ownership in these
authors, and when we take their work from them, as at present, without
their consent, it is robbery. The fact that the handiwork of our own
authors is seized in the same way in foreign lands neither excuses nor
mitigates our sin.
With your permission we will say here, over our signatures, and earnestly
and sincerely, that we very greatly desire that you shall grant a full
copyright to foreign authors (the copyright fee for the entry in the
office of the Congressional Librarian to be the same as we pay
ourselves), and we also as greatly desire that this grant shall be made
without a single hampering stipulation that American authors shall
receive in turn an advantage of any kind from foreign governments.
Since no author who was applied to hesitated for a moment to append his
signature to this petition we are satisfied that if time had permitted we
could have procured the signature of every writer in the United States,
great and small, obscure or famous. As it is, the list comprises the
names of about all our writers whose works have at present a European
market, and who are therefore chiefly concerned in this matter.
No objection to our proposition can come from any reputable publisher
among us--or does come from such a quarter, as the appended signatures of
our greatest publishing firms will attest. A European copyright here
would be a manifest advantage to them. As the matter stands now the
moment they have thoroughly advertised a desirable foreign book, and thus
at great expense aroused public interest in it, some small-spirited
speculator (who has lain still in his kennel and spent nothing) rushes
the same book on the market and robs the respectable publisher of half
Then, since neither our authors nor the decent among our publishing firms
will object to granting an American copyright to foreign authors and
artists, who can there be to object? Surely nobody whose protest is
entitled to any weight.
Trusting in the righteousness of our cause we, your petitioners, will
ever pray, etc.,
With great respect,
Your Ob't Serv'ts.
CIRCULAR TO AMERICAN AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS
DEAR SIR,--We believe that you will recognize the justice and the
righteousness of the thing we desire to accomplish through the
accompanying petition. And we believe that you will be willing that our
country shall be the first in the world to grant to all authors alike the
free exercise of their manifest right to do as they please with the fruit
of their own labor without inquiring what flag they live under. If the
sentiments of the petition meet your views, will you do us the favor to
sign it and forward it by post at your earliest convenience to our
Secretary of the Committee.
Communications supposed to have been written by the Tsar of Russia and
the Sultan of Turkey to Mark Twain on the subject of International
Copyright, about 1890.
ST. PETERSBURG, February.
COL. MARK TWAIN, Washington.
Your cablegram received. It should have been transmitted through my
minister, but let that pass. I am opposed to international copyright.
At present American literature is harmless here because we doctor it in
such a way as to make it approve the various beneficent devices which we
use to keep our people favorable to fetters as jewelry and pleased with
Siberia as a summer resort. But your bill would spoil this. We should
be obliged to let you say your say in your own way. 'Voila'! my empire
would be a republic in five years and I should be sampling Siberia
If you should run across Mr. Kennan--[George Kennan, who had graphically
pictured the fearful conditions of Siberian exile.]--please ask him to
come over and give some readings. I will take good care of him.
DR. MARK TWAIN, Washington.
Great Scott, no! By the beard of the Prophet, no! How can you ask such
a thing of me? I am a man of family. I cannot take chances, like other
people. I cannot let a literature come in here which teaches that a
man's wife is as good as the man himself. Such a doctrine cannot do any
particular harm, of course, where the man has only one wife, for then it
is a dead-level between them, and there is no humiliating inequality, and
no resulting disorder; but you take an extremely married person, like me,
and go to teaching that his wife is 964 times as good as he is, and
what's hell to that harem, dear friend? I never saw such a fool as you.
Do not mind that expression; I already regret it, and would replace it
with a softer one if I could do it without debauching the truth. I
beseech you, do not pass that bill. Roberts College is quite all the
American product we can stand just now. On top of that, do you want to
send us a flood of freedom-shrieking literature which we can't edit the
poison out of, but must let it go among our people just as it is? My
friend, we should be a republic inside of ten years.
MARK TWAIN'S LAST SUGGESTION ON COPYRIGHT
A MEMORIAL RESPECTFULLY TENDERED TO THE MEMBERS OF THE SENATE AND THE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
(Prepared early in 1909 at the suggestion of Mr. Champ Clack but not
offered. A bill adding fourteen years to the copyright period was passed
about this time.)
The Policy of Congress:--Nineteen or twenty years ago James Russell
Lowell, George Haven Putnam, and the under signed appeared before the
Senate Committee on Patents in the interest of Copyright. Up to that
time, as explained by Senator Platt, of Connecticut, the policy of
Congress had been to limit the life of a copyright by a term of years,
with one definite end in view, and only one--to wit, that after an author
had been permitted to enjoy for a reasonable length of time the income
from literary property created by his hand and brain the property should
then be transferred "to the public" as a free gift. That is still the
policy of Congress to-day.
The Purpose in View:--The purpose in view was clear: to so reduce the
price of the book as to bring it within the reach of all purses, and
spread it among the millions who had not been able to buy it while it was
still under the protection of copyright.
The Purpose Defeated:--This purpose has always been defeated. That is to
say, that while the death of a copyright has sometimes reduced the price
of a book by a half for a while, and in some cases by even more, it has
never reduced it vastly, nor accomplished any reduction that was
permanent and secure.
The Reason:--The reason is simple: Congress has never made a reduction
compulsory. Congress was convinced that the removal of the author's
royalty and the book's consequent (or at least probable) dispersal among
several competing publishers would make the book cheap by force of the
competition. It was an error. It has not turned out so. The reason is,
a publisher cannot find profit in an exceedingly cheap edition if he must
divide the market with competitors.
Proposed Remedy:--The natural remedy would seem to be, amended law
requiring the issue of cheap editions.
Copyright Extension:--I think the remedy could be accomplished in the
following way, without injury to author or publisher, and with extreme
advantage to the public: by an amendment to the existing law providing as
follows--to wit: that at any time between the beginning of a book's
forty-first year and the ending of its forty-second the owner of the
copyright may extend its life thirty years by issuing and placing on sale
an edition of the book at one-tenth the price of the cheapest edition
hitherto issued at any time during the ten immediately preceding years.
This extension to lapse and become null and void if at any time during
the thirty years he shall fail during the space of three consecutive
months to furnish the ten per cent. book upon demand of any person or
persons desiring to buy it.
The Result:--The result would be that no American classic enjoying the
thirty-year extension would ever be out of the reach of any American
purse, let its uncompulsory price be what it might. He would get a two-
dollar book for 20 cents, and he could get none but copyright-expired
classics at any such rate.
The Final Result:--At the end of the thirty-year extension the
copyright would again die, and the price would again advance. This by a
natural law, the excessively cheap edition no longer carrying with it an
advantage to any publisher.
Reconstruction of The Present Law Not Necessary:--A clause of the
suggested amendment could read about as follows, and would obviate the
necessity of taking the present law to pieces and building it over again:
All books and all articles enjoying forty-two years copyright-life
under the present law shall be admitted to the privilege of the
thirty-year extension upon complying with the condition requiring
the producing and placing upon permanent sale of one grade or form
of said book or article at a price of 90 per cent. below the
cheapest rate at which said book or article had been placed upon the
market at any time during the immediately preceding ten years.
If the suggested amendment shall meet with the favor of the present
Congress and become law--and I hope it will--I shall have personal
experience of its effects very soon. Next year, in fact, in the person
of my first book, 'The Innocents Abroad'. For its forty-two-year
copyright-life will then cease and its thirty-year extension begin--and
with the latter the permanent low-rate edition. At present the highest
price of the book is eight dollars, and its lowest price three dollars
per copy. Thus the permanent low rate will be thirty cents per copy. A
sweeping reduction like this is what Congress from the beginning has
desired to achieve, but has not been able to accomplish because no
inducement was offered to publishers to run the risk.
S. L. CLEMENS.
(A full and interesting elucidation of Mark Twain's views on Copyright
may be found in an article entitled "Concerning Copyright," published in
the North American Review for January, 1905.)