I am in the process of posting a collection of American copyright enactments because, well, we really need more ways to waste time online. I am continually impressed by the polish of early American lawyering.
I was working under the mistaken assumption, I think, that the framers of the Constitution were exceptional for their time and that the other lawyers from the period were decidedly less skilled.
Check out the drafting in this early Connecticut public law that, according to Noah Webster, “was obtained by the petition of several literary gentlemen in that state.” See Noah Webster, Origin of the Copy-Right Laws in the United States, A collection of papers on political, literary, and moral subjects 173 (1843). The law’s policy is interesting — especially the provision on judicially mandated access when a publisher does not make enough copies available or charges too high a price — but the thing that kills me is the elegant drafting:
Connecticut Act for the encouragement of literature and genius 1783 Jan Sess CONNECTICUT
AN ACT for the encouragement of literature and genius.
1783, Jan. Sess. Whereas it is perfectly agreeable to the principles of natural equity and justice, that every author should be secured in receiving the profits that may arise from the sale of his works, and such security may encourage men of learning and genius to publish their writings; which may do honor to their country, and service to mankind.
Be it enacted by the governor, council and representatives, in general court assembled, and by the authority of the same, That the author of any book or pamphlet not yet printed, or of any map or chart, being an inhabitant or resident in these United States, and his heirs and assigns, shall have the sole liberty of printing, publishing and vending the same within this State, for the term of fourteen years, to commence from the day of its first publication in this State. And if any person or persons within the said term of fourteen years as aforesaid, shall presume to print or re-print any such book, pamphlet, map or chart within this State, or to import or introduce into this State for sale, any copies thereof, re-printed beyond the limits of this State, or shall knowingly publish, vend and utter, or distribute the same without the consent of the proprietor thereof in writing, signed in the presence of two credible witnesses, every such person or persons shall forfeit and pay to the proprietor of such book, pamphlet, map or chart double the value of all the copies thereof, so printed, imported, distributed, vended, or exposed for sale; to be recovered by such proprietor in any court of law in this State, proper to try the same.
Provided nevertheless, That no author, assignee or proprietor of any such book, pamphlet, map or chart shall be entitled to take the benefit of this statute, until he shall duly register his name as author, assignee, or proprietor, with the title thereof, in the office of the Secretary of this State, who is hereby impowered and directed to enter the same on record.
And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That at the expiration of the said term of fourteen years, in the cases above mentioned, the sole right of printing and disposing of any such book, pamphlet, map or chart in this State, shall return to the author thereof, if then living, and his heirs and assigns, for the term of fourteen years more, to commence at the end of said first term; and that all and every person or persons who shall re-print, import, vend, utter or distribute in this State, any copies thereof without the consent of such proprietor, obtained as aforesaid, during said second term of fourteen years, shall be liable to the same penalties, recoverable in the same manner as is herein before enacted and provided.
And whereas it is equally necessary, for the encouragement of learning, that the inhabitants of this State be furnished with useful books, &c., at reasonable prices:
Be it further enacted, That whenever any such author or proprietor of such book, pamphlet, map or chart, shall neglect to furnish the public with sufficient editions thereof, or shall sell the same at a price unreasonable, and beyond what may be adjudged a sufficient compensation for his labour, time, expence, and risque of sale, the judge of the superior court in this State, on complaint thereof made to him in writing, is hereby authorized and impowered to summon such author or proprietor to appear before the next superior court, to be holden in that county where such author or proprietor dwells, if a resident in this State, if not, in that county where such complainant dwells; and said court are hereby authorized and impowered to enquire into the justice of said complaint, and if the same be found true, to take such sufficient recognizance and security of such author or proprietor, conditioned that he shall within such reasonable time, as said court shall direct, publish and offer for sale in this State, a sufficient number of copies of such book, pamphlet, map, or chart, at such reasonable price as said court shall, on due consideration affix: And if such author or proprietor shall, before said court, neglect or refuse to give such security as aforesaid, the said court are hereby authorized and impowered to give such complainant, a full and ample licence to re-print and publish such book, pamphlet, map or chart, in such numbers and for such term as said court shall judge just and reasonable: Provided said complainant shall give sufficient security before said court, to afford said reprinted edition at such reasonable price as said court shall thereto affix.
And be it further enacted, That any person or persons who shall procure and print any unpublished manuscript, without the consent and approbation of the author or proprietor thereof, first had and obtained, (if such author or proprietor be living, and resident in, or inhabitant of these United States) shall be liable to suffer and pay to the said author or proprietor his just damages for such injury; to be recovered by action brought on this statute, in any court of law in this State, proper to try the same.
Provided always, That nothing in this act shall extend to affect, prejudice or confirm the rights which any person may have to the printing or publishing of any book, pamphlet, map or chart, at common law, in cases not mentioned in this act, or to screen from legal punishment any person or persons who may be guilty of printing or publishing any book, pamphlet or paper that may be prophane, treasonable, defamatory, or injurious to government, morals or religion.
Provided also, That this act shall not extend, or be construed to extend in favour, or for the benefit of any author or persons residing in, or inhabitant of any other of the United States, until the State or States, in which such person or persons reside or dwell, shall have passed similar laws in favour of the authors of new publications, and their heirs and assigns.
(Note.—This act was repealed by the act, Chapter IX, October Session, 1812 of the general assembly of State of Connecticut, “Public State Laws of the State of Connecticut, Book II, October Session, 1812,” p. 104.)