For the last seventy years James Leatham's work has been subject to copyright restrictions. In practical terms that means that unless someone paid money to publish his work (and no one wanted to) it remained hidden from view. This restriction is lifted on 31st December 2015.
Copyright is often considered a vital thing for an author. It's certainly a site of many a battle over the years. It's also a double edged sword. Protecting one's 'intellectual property' may seem fair enough, but preventing people from reading a writer's work half a century after their death (unless they are 'popular' enough to be a 'money-spinner' or have been turned into an icon or cash-cow 'classic') seems a bit less laudable.
Copyright has been an issue of dispute for a long time, and is currently undergoing scrutiny once more given the possibilities of digital technology. The issue of copyright is absolutely embedded in publishing history and practice. It reflects political and social systems and aims. The arguments are many and complex. We’ll visit them from time to time in The New Gateway which launches next month, but if you want to do some work on your own, there’s some starter points at the bottom of this article.
Alastair J. Mann points out that ‘Copyright term is crucial to the potential for commercial exploitation of literary property.’ This alerts us straight away to the suggestion that copyright is a politico-social issue, and therefore one of great interest to Leatham, and to us.
On the most basic level there is on the one hand an argument that the labourer is worth his hire and that recompense should be made to the author of a piece of writing. On the other hand, once a writer is dead, a system that says 70 years must pass before his work is freely available in the public domain can work to effectively silence voices which are not promoted by a mainstream culture.
Leatham expressed his views on copyright in his unfinished autobiography ‘60 Years of World-Mending.’ The autobiography was unfinished because he died part way through the writing. It has never been published because it exists only as a serialised episodic text in volumes of The Gateway Magazine. And this has been subject to copyright until now. . Deveron Press will be bringing out the first edition of this book in May 2016. .
Here's what Leatham wrote about copyright in '60 Years of World-Mending'
‘No Rights Reserved.’
Count Tolstoy’s books sometimes had printed on them the express declaration, ‘No rights reserved,’ and Byron, hard up as he occasionally was, was very generous are careless about copyrights of his, valuable as they were. An author who believes his views are for the good of the world will want them as widely diffused as possible. The old fashioned, natural way of reviewing a book included the reproduction of extracts from it – samples of the bulk. The new style is to write a few slogan-like superlatives about it, the idea being that some of these may be reproduced in the subsequent advertisements of the book. This advertises the complaisant reviewing organs as well as the book praised. To be forbidden to reproduce ‘in part’ means that you cannot fairly and specifically impugn the style and ideas of the writer as Macaulay did in the famous and deadly review of Robert Montgomery’s ‘poems,’ which the obliging reviewers had boosted into an eleventh edition by sounding generalities till Macaulay cited and analysed particular passages such as: -
The soul, aspiring, pants its source to mount,
As streams meander level with their fount.
What could the critic say but that streams did not meander level with their fount, but that if they did, no two motions could be less like each other than that of meandering level and that of mounting upwards?
Montgomery wrote to Macaulay begging to be taken out of the pillory; but he had himself placed himself in the pillory. He ought to have interdicted quotation from his book. He was convicted by his own written words.
Shaw and Wells, jealous about their copyrights, boasting of their earnings, grumbling about the deprecation of their investments, are behaving like the other money-worshippers, when all the time the need is for sacrifice, a well-directed public spirit. The great and increasing lack of the age is public intelligence and goodwill, the spirit of giving rather than taking. To think of a childless man of fourscore and four, and married to a rich wife, still putting past money for no conceivable good purpose, is depressing, exasperating, incomprehensible. It does not even appear to be senile decay. Though the Shaw of fifty years ago was, indeed, morally quite different.’
The rebirth of the Deveron Press (and Gateway) is undertaken in the belief that Leatham would be more than happy at once more being in print to a wide audience. The lifting of copyright restrictions and his promotion into the public domain makes this possible. Digital technology makes it affordable, though of course there is a cost in the undertaking which must be mitigated, especially in the print production. But making Leatham’s work available as a reading choice is not primarily about money. It’s about voicing the unvoiced. A good act in an unprincipled world if you like. It’s an example of working outside the market driven economic model.
If you would like to explore a bit more about copyright, and the history of the debate (and why wouldn’t you?) we’ve put together a few links for you.
Finding reading matter on this subject can be a frustrating affair, and indeed does suggest that the extreme commercialisation of published material does not work in the best interests of the reader.
To access ‘real’ out of print books isn’t easy. For example, David Saunders ‘Authorship and Copyright’ (Routledge 1992) is available from Amazon second hand for a mere £999. But it resists attempts to be found elsewhere
Ian Purson ‘Copyright and Society’ in ‘Essays in the History of Publishing’ ed Asa Briggs, (Longman 1974) can be picked up very cheaply as print second hand suggesting that there's not always a perceived value in older scholarship.
Both of these books can be accessed through University libraries, but not so easily for the general public. Restrictions of physical books can be understood to some degree, but it is harder to justify with digital works and especially those in the public domain.
For example, Matthew Arnold ‘On Copyright’ in The Fortnightly Review 1888, while public domain is incredibly hard to find unless you have academic library privileges.
We aim to publish this online in a future edition of Gateway. But here’s the citation for those who are happy to try their luck!
COPYRIGHT. Arnold, Matthew Fortnightly Review, May 1865-June 1934; Mar 1880; 27, 159; British Periodicals pg. 319
We live in very interesting times as regards copyright and public domain, as The Public Domain manifesto suggests:
'The public domain, as we understand it, is the wealth of information that is free from the barriers to access or reuse usually associated with copyright protection, either because it is free from any copyright protection or because the right holders have decided to remove these barriers. It is the raw material from which new knowledge is derived and new cultural works are created.
After decades of measures that have drastically reduced the public domain, typically by extending the terms of protection, it is time to strongly reaffirm how much our societies and economies rely on a vibrant and ever expanding public domain. The role of the public domain, in fact, already crucial in the past, it is even more important today, as the Internet and digital technologies enable us to access, use and re-distribute culture with an ease and a power unforeseeable even just a generation ago. The Public Domain Manifesto aims at reminding citizens and policy-makers of a common wealth that, since it belongs to all, it is often defended by no-one. In a time where we for the first time in history have the tools to enable direct access to most of our shared culture and knowledge it is important that policy makers and citizens strengthen the legal concept that enables free and unrestricted access and reuse.' (http://publicdomainmanifesto.org)
It’s good that the virtual doors are being thrown open. As an example of good practice, have a look at:
Open Book Publishers ‘Privilege and Property,’ Ronan Deazley, Martin Kretschmer and Lionel Bently (eds.) This is a 2010 book. There are various ways of reading this, online and downloading as well as print copy. The key point is that you can access it for free easily enough. It’s then your choice to buy or not.
This is the link to the whole text
The Chapter on Scottish copyright http://books.openedition.org/obp/1064 is particularly interesting as is John Feather’s chapter http://books.openedition.org/obp/1087
Hopefully this gives you enough scope and whets your appetite to start looking at copyright and public domain for yourself. Gateway will be coming back to this again and again.
A great, ongoing place to find Public Domain work is http://publicdomainreview.org/ and we’ll feature regular links to articles we find particularly interesting here in the months to come.
To find past articles please use monthly archives.