J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Moral of the Story

From The Brother’s Gift: Or, the Naughty Girl Reform’d, published in London by Francis Newbery in 1776 and reprinted ten years later in Worcester without compensation to the author by Isaiah Thomas. It’s always good to take moral lessons from pirated books.


Robert S. Paul said...

What was copyright law like at the time? Would anyone have even considered this "piracy"?

J. L. Bell said...

The concept of copyright was around in 1786. It had been established in Britain in 1710, and would be written into the U.S. Constitution shortly afterward.

But there was no international copyright convention, much less enforcement of its protections for authors and publishers, for many years afterward.

Rob Velella said...

Copyright, or lack thereof, is one of the things that kept American writing from reaching its true potential. Why write, when you know anyone can just steal it from you? Joel Barlow, considered America's first poet, commented about copyright when the Constitution was being written. Real attention isn't drawn to the problem until the magazine boom of the 1840s and 1850s and American copyright starts to take hold. Nevertheless, no viable international copyright comes to fruition until 1892. Can you imagine?

Charles Bahne said...

Histories of Houghton, Mifflin & Co., the publishers, say that their predecessor, Ticknor & Fields, was the first American publisher to pay royalties to British authors, in 1842. They were also the first publisher to pay royalties based on a percentage of sales, rather than a lump sum at publication. Their office, of course, was in the Thomas Crease house, later known as the Old Corner Book Store, at the corner of School and Washington Streets in Boston.

Not Whitey Bulger said...

I believe that Tennyson was the first to be paid a copyright fee by Ticknor and Fields. William Ticknor lived on Burroughs st. in Jamaica Plain within spitting distance of
Jamaica Pond.

Samuel Goodrich, alias Peter Parley, and also a Jamaica Plain resident, fought many battles with British literary pirates who both published his works without payment and also created works that they credited to Peter Parley.