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THE RECOIL OF PIRACY.

THERE are two prominent reasons why the good old maxims, that are repeated by every body, are lived up to by so few. One is, that their terms are susceptible of varying definitions; the other, that the consequences of conduct which they predicate are generally too remote to be grasped by the average imagination. All this is peculiarly true of the maxim that “ Honesty is the best policy.” And it is peculiarly illustrated in the attitude of America regarding literary piracy; yet much proof has accumulated that the maxim holds good even in that case, and that the piracy has recoiled to the serious injury of the nation which has supposed itself to profit by it.

As to definitions: the gentry who are accused of piracy indignantly repudiate the term, because their proceedings are within the law, that is, within the law of their own country. This identical answer, however, could have been made by the Algerines to Commodore Decatur. In Algiers piracy was within the law too. Great Britain might send a navy over here, as we sent one to Algiers, to stop proceedings which our own laws will not stop, and to collect an indemnity for the millions of which a most important class of her citizens has been despoiled by the

industry” of a certain class of ours. Yet if she were to do so, we probably should answer, with many shrieks of the eagle, that we proposed to be governed by our own laws, and not by those of Great Britain-an answer logically identical with the answers that the Dey of Algiers returned to all arguments but those he saw in the mouths of Decatur's guns.

Until some forty or fifty years ago the American publishers of foreign books did little to reconcile their competing interests. The house which got possession of a desirable foreign book first, and brought it into the market first, if other things were even, made most out of it. If any other printer thought, rightly or wrongly, that he could make money by an opposition edition, he was apt, unless deterred by personal considerations, to get one out. But it took very little experience to show that, as things were then, an opposition edition seldom could pay. If one set of pages in type, or stereotype plates, could be paid for by the sale of a thousand impressions, and a profit realized on the sale of another thousand, an opposition set of stereotype plates selling that second thousand would be but barely paid for; and unless the sale should reach two thousand there would be a loss, probably, on the edition coming out last. Should there be three editions, still less would there be a chance of a profit on any. So it came to be realized that if one publisher got out a book, it was best, in ordinary cases, for other publishers to let it alone. * Therefore competition was, in the main, restricted to facilities for getting foreign books out first, and sometimes even, in imitation of the enterprise of certain newspapers, special plans were made to meet vessels coming in with books. A quicker plan was, however, to pay the English printer to send over a set of proofs before the book was printed, or of sheets before they were bound; and thus grew up the habit of buying "advance sheets.” But, except in the case of established authors, this was "buying a pig in a poke.” What was to be done about the untried authors ? Many more books appeared from them than from the established ones, and, of course, among them were all the germs of future fame and of connections which, though of doubtful present value to the publisher, might be important later. degree of recognition, perhaps in most cases of sympathetic recog. nition, to the good old proverb mentioned at the outset.

To meet such questions, there gradually grew up, between, say, 1850 and 1876, the unwritten law now somewhat widely known, but less widely understood, of “trade courtesy.” It not only prevented ruinous competition between American publishers, but also secured to foreign authors most of their rights. It was, as I have intimated, simply the result of an enlightened self-interest, but eventually so enlightened as to give an unusual

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* Recent occurrences have shown apparent exceptions to this rule, but they are only apparent. The only reason why judicious publishers now issue so many books with the prospect of opposition editions before them, is to keep up connections that they hope will again be valuable. Detailed reasons will appear later.

The law began with a tacit agreement to prevent the typesetting for a book by two houses, by leaving the book to the house first announcing its intention to print it. An announcement, to be official, it was soon agreed, must be made in some recognized medium, and the New York “Commercial Advertiser was so recognized. Some houses, however, got to announcing everything they could hear of as forthcoming-even, by occasional mistakes, some American books already printed; and so latterly it grew to be generally agreed that the announcement must be made only when a book was actually in hand. But one house could import a book as well as another, and so, even with this provision, official announcements were often simultaneous, and therefore futile for the purpose in view. This, as well as that sense of fairness which is at least ready to respond when self-interest backs it up, made it natural to give the preference to the house that had bought advance sheets, or that by some contract had secured the sanction of the author. In fact, the announcement system was never intended to supersede the purchase or contract system, but only to supplement it in the case of new authors where purchase or contract was dangerous. It was not natural for new foreign authors to take their own risks in America as new authors sometimes do in their own countries, and difficulties of communication did not favor either submitting manuscripts here before printing them at home, or holding back books there until the American publishers could decide from advance sheets. As a matter of fact, then, contracts were mainly restricted to the works of tried authors; and, under the régime of trade courtesy, the contracts of one house were generally respected by the other houses. Untried authors of promise were generally taken up, not by contract, but by priority of announcement, and these announcements were likewise respected, some arrangement being made when announcements were simultaneous. It was farther agreed, however, that a house taking the risk of an untried author should have the right of first consideration of the author's other works, and although it was impracticable for one house to look very closely into another's relations with an author, and insist upon their being what they should be, the sentiment became distinct that a house, to retain its right of first consideration of an author's works, must make terms satisfactory to him. Moreover, a house making a success with an author's first book was generally eager enough, in its own interest, to secure his second from the author himself, and to propitiate him by payment of a reasonable share of any profit made on the first.

Yet in exceptional cases the absence of statutory law permitted some just complaint and a good deal of unjust grumbling. The latter came from authors who were not appreciated here as highly as they thought they ought to be, or as highly as the enthusiasm of their admirers led them to suppose they were, in spite of their publishers' reports. Some complaints, too, came from authors fatuous enough to sell to their European publishers their rights for the whole world, and then, after the publishers had sub-sold the rights for America, to abuse them for not giving the money to the authors, or to abuse the American publishers for not paying the money a second time to them.

Despite all these complaints and uncertainties, however, it is the simple truth, confirmed by the vast majority of eminent English authors, that, under trade courtesy, most authors of consequence got their just dues, and that those of no consequence did too, but the latter were not always satisfied with them. Thus trade courtesy grew to have the essential features of an International Copyright Law, and though, like all usages, and, for that matter, like all laws, it had its gaps and defects, it turned some millions of well-earned dollars into the pockets of authors to whom the American people's obligations are simply immeasurable, and it gave our young literature a chance to grow without the blighting shadow of unnatural competition which is now thrown over it by the break-down of that system and the inadequacy

of our laws. Under trade courtesy, the houses that were able to commend themselves to authors were gradually building up a clientage very tempting to adventurers willing to take it without paying for it; moreover, before the war trade courtesy existed largely because the natural distribution of industries then prevented the undue crowding of labor and capital into manufacturing. During the war, though manufactures had been unduly stimulated at the general expense by the protective tariff, they had been so confined to matters demanded by the war that trade courtesy still remained safe. But when peace came, under the protective system the increase of manufactures at the expense of other pursuits became enormous, and finally began to overflow even into the remote fields of letters, and to seek, as it was seeking elsewhere, material to work upon at almost any cost. Not only was it tempted by the preserves made through years of labor and no little fair-dealing by the established publishing houses, but it was, in a sense, crowded into those preserves by the general glut elsewhere. The manufacturers of machinery set up printing-offices and binderies right and left on credit. The paper mills needed more outlets for their excessive products, and to secure them, literally tempted adventurers into the piratical publishing of vast piles of cheap books, which were largely forced into the markets at prices that not only paid no profits, but in most cases brought on failures that left the printers and binders in the lurch, and often the paper makers themselves.

These two causes—the temptations to new-comers to break in on the clientage of the established houses, and the glut of manufactures—broke trade courtesy down. With it went probably nine-tenths of the payment to foreign authors, and, what is of more immediate consequence to Americans, the best reading habits of our people and, at least until a remedy comes, the best prospects of our literature.

I will now attempt to explain the grounds of these assertions.

As to the payment to English authors: the inexperienced reader would probably suppose that two editions would simply divide the market, and that if only one paid the author, it could pay him at least half of what it would have paid if it had had the whole market. Such is apparently the view of some writers, to be commented on later. But I have already indicated why this cannot be. Books that will pay for type-setting and advertising and publishers' office expenses once, will seldom рау

for them twice, and very rarely three times. So the chance of a book's paying is vastly decreased, instead of increased, by a multiplication of publishers. Of the many editions under piracy,

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