Copyright Issues Go Back a Long Way

January 26th, 2010 § 0

Copyright issues make the headlines every few days, often about Google making millions of books available on the Internet.

Back in the early 1840s, it was a similar issue—on a smaller scale. Supposed culprits were American publishers paying no royalties on books that had been first published in England.

Charles Dickens was angry at those American publishers in 1842 when he arrived in Montreal following a trip to the United States.  Stephen Leacock notes in his book Charles Dickens, His Life and Work, that Dickens wrote home:

Is it not a horrible thing that scoundrel booksellers should grow rich here from publishing books, the authors of which do not reap one farthing from their issue by scores of thousands; and that every vile, blackguard and detestable newspaper, so filthy and bestial that no honest man would admit one into his house for a scullery doormat, should be able to publish these same writings…?

In 1880, the copyright issue was still around.  In November, the Literary and Debating Society at the Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal had this item as a subject of debate: “Is the action of the American Publishers respecting copyright likely to advance literature?”

MIM member Anthony Loftus argued for the U. S. disregard for British copyright, saying “Apart from the moral bearing of the matter, any action which has the effect of disseminating literature must advance it.”

Gilbert Wanless, for the negative, contended that the flood of literature introduced by the Americans, and filched from English authors, had the effect of stifling new literature and therefore of retarding it.

The debate was decided in the affirmative.

Secretary of the MIM debating group was Maxwell Goldstein, who later was a founder of Montreal’s Temple Emanu-El, now at Sherbrooke and Elm.  Another member, 22-year-old  Clarence de Sola, was the third son of the Rev. Abraham de Sola, noted speaker and professor at McGill College.  In 1890, Clarence de Sola planned and oversaw construction of the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue, then on Stanley Street.  His substantial residence, completed in 1913, still exists at 1380 Pine Avenue.

Members of the MIM debating society in 1880 were:
M. S. Berry                    Canada Guarantee Co.
Anthony Loftus            P. Office
James Crankshaw        103 St. François Xavier
John McCallum            68 Bleury
Gilbert Wanless            43 Notre Dame
H. Y. Bulmer                 735 Dorchester
Maxwell Goldstein       P. O. Box 933
Jonathan Findlay        49 Metcalfe
C. J. de Sola                  McGill College
W. S. Walker                St. James Street
Chas. Stevens               38 Hippolyte Street
D. J. M. Darling           98 St. Chas Borromé
A. Stuart                        143 Bleury
G. Tuck                          127 St. […..] St.
J. Anthony McShane  238 Guy St.
J. B. Henderson          41 Mayer St.
J. T. Dutig                     28 Aylmer St.
E. J. Stipple                  c/o Messrs Greenshields & Bartsted
Henry Lanpard            28 Cadieux

(Adapted from an article in the Westmount Independent, November 25-26, 2008)

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