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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
L T Oggel/FS/VCU <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 7 Apr 2008 17:52:24 -0400
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
text/plain (235 lines)
Yes, for printers (stationers), originally, not authors, although the 
Constitution (1787) specifically says "authors" (and "inventors"), so it 
seems that authors were beginning to get some lasting protection and 
credit back then.

I believe that this practice goes back in England to the 16th c. and 
probably earlier (I forget how far back exactly), to the Stationers' 
Register.  A stationer (a printer--member of the Stationers Company, a 
guild) needed to register everything he printed.  Doing so amounted to 
establishing an early form of copyright, before the actual term was used.* 
 I didn't know that this British practice was also the practice in the 
U.S.that late--so far into the 19th c. (!870).  I also didn't know about 
the U.S. practice of using the district courts for this purpose for a 

Now that I've followed the link that David Davis provided, I see there are 
more details.

I think that this "neglect" of the author (for lack of a better word) in 
the publishing business might be potentially very interesting for us.  It 
might shed some light on Clemens' view of himself and of the value of his 
copyright--it might explain his thinking in 1894.  The way out of 
bankruptcy for him (under the guidance of H. H. Rogers) was to "bank" on 
his copyright.  But Clemens had not thought that way, because in his world 
the author's role was to write and then sell his writing. The idea that 
the value of a book might extend far into the future was not in his 
thinking.  After writing a book and securing protection for the short 
term, the author was finished; the printer/publisher had longer-term 
"rights."  (This might also help explain why he gave away his 
manuscripts.)  Thus, Following the Equator (1897) is copyrighted in 
Olivia's name (his largest creditor).

I don't know if this thinking has validity.  But thanks for the 19th c. 
copyright lesson. 

Terry Oggel

*Completely as a sidelight, it would be interesting to determine when the 
term "copyright" came into usage.  It was not used in the Constitution, 
but it was used in the Act now commonly called the Copyright Act of 1790: 
"AN ACT for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of maps, 
charts, and books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during 
the times therein mentioned."  The term is used there and it's hyphenated, 
which suggests that in 1790 it was a new word, made up of two existing 
words and now being linked.  After usage became widespread, the hyphen was 

Arianne <[log in to unmask]> 
Sent by: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
04/07/2008 04:00 PM
Please respond to
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>

[log in to unmask]

Re: Copyright question

Thanks, David, for your advice.  I looked into Google books, just in case
the Nimmer book was there.  One thing I learned was that there were 10
volumes of Nimmer on copyright!  Yikes.

Then I googled History of Copyright and had one wonder somewhat clarified.
Copyright was not originally to protect authors, but those who printed
Interesting.  Apparently, here in the US we've tried to protect authors.

I came upon this paragraph which clarified that registering in District
Couts WAS
the copyright method up to 1870.  A revelatio:  Thanks to

"1870: Revision of Copyright Act

The administration of copyright registrations moved from the individual
district courts to the Library of Congress Copyright Office. The term of
protection was not extended in this revision.'
So the quote I sent you which Bonner put at the bottom of the Jesse Grant
WAS a copyright notice, but for the publisher, not the author it seems:

"*Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1868, by ROBERT BONNER.
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District of 

Thank you for guiding me further into this copyright history.

Ariianne Laidlaw
On Mon, Apr 7, 2008 at 6:59 AM, David Davis <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Hi. Copyright rules from that period are outside of my expertise. (And
> that of most people's, even in copyrightland.  ;-) )
> The big book of US copyright, which does cover some of this historical
> stuff, is by Melville & David Nimmer- but you may have to hunt around
> for it in a law school library.
> My understanding is that _articles_ weren't usually thought of as under
> copyright back in those days. (MT rewrote his materials from the form
> they had appeared in journals for book publication, yes?) Today we would
> call them something more like "a work made for hire." I.e., I write it,
> you pay me, and you publish it in the newspaper/journal. End of
> transaction.
> If that guess is close to right, then Daddy Grant or Bonner or somebody
> _may_ have been trying to preserve what they hoped would turn into book
> rights on their text.
> ________________________________
> From: Arianne [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
> Sent: Saturday, April 05, 2008 2:13 AM
> To: David Davis; Mark Twain Forum
> Subject: Re: FW: Copyright question
> Many thanks, David.  Does anyone have an opinion (or knowledge!) whether
> there would
> be any consequences if someone didn't reespect this primitive version of
> the copyright?
> What could Bonner have been trying to protect?  Reproduction of the
> article?
> Dana co-authored a biography of Grant which drew from the articles for
> information about
> Grant's youth, apparently the only source available.
> Wondering,
> Arianne.
> On Fri, Apr 4, 2008 at 2:43 PM, David Davis <[log in to unmask]>
> wrote:
> Hi. I did ask around, and it appears that, for that early date (the
> Copyright Office was not taking registrations yet) an author could,  in
> effect, "timestamp" there work at a courthouse. It sounds like that is
> what is happening there. Essentially, "Entered in the Clerk's Office"
> was that era's equivalent of copyright registration.
> Does that help?
> On Wed, Apr 2, 2008 at 2:08 PM, David Davis <[log in to unmask]>
> wrote:
>        Hi. I don't know, but I will ask around and let you know if I
> find
>        anything out!
>        My understanding (which may be wrong) is that copyright was not
> normally
>        accorded to articles appearing only in the newspapers in those
> days.
>        What are the exact words around - "...registered with the
> district..."
>        (Can you give me the whole sentence?)
>        DDD
>        ________________________________
>        From: Arianne [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
>        Sent: Wednesday, April 02, 2008 4:51 PM
>        To: Mark Twain Forum
>        Subject: Copyright question
>        Dear Mr. Davis,
>        Do you, or does anyone have knowledge about the reality of
> copyright
>        protection back in 1868?
>        Robert Bonner of The Ledger in New York commissioned Jesse Grant
> to
>        write
>        articles about his son, Ulysses.  At the bottom of the first
> column he
>        recorded that
>        they'd been registered with a district something.  Am I correct
> in
>        assuming this
>        was an effort to copyright the articles?   (He did not add that
>        protection to articles by Greely or H.W. Beecher.)
>        And if so, what would infringe upon the copyright?   Would there
> be
>        consequences?
>        Charles Dana of the SUN published the Ledger Grant articles in
> his paper
>        BEFORE they appeared in the Ledger!
>        Would this have any legal implications in those days?
>        All this is significant to me in connection with an issue
> involving
>        Twain.
>        THANKS for any opinions or help,
>        Arianne Laidlaw