T may be very stupid of me, but I cannot recognise the justice of the present laws of copyright. If I have a ie of land only big enough to grow three gooseberry bushes upon it, the law is my friend for ever as regards this little bit of land. I may have gained it by a dexterous manipulation of butter. It may have descended to me because my great-great- great-greatgrandfather knocked down somebody and took the land. Or that much-respected relative may have contrived, not without some lo^ uf character, to have been always on the right side, in times of civil discord. Perhaps this distant ancestor was a judicious gipsy, who squatted upon a piece of waste land, which, however, has now become very valuable. In whatever way this land may have been gained, the law loves and protects me, its possessor, or rather loves it as a property. The law even gives me a valid right to all the air above my land, and all the minerals beneath it.
Now look at the other case. Out of my mind I construct something which I cause to be recorded in black marks upon pieces of white paper. Some people—perhaps wisely, perhaps foolishly—are willing to give me bits of gold and silver for these blackened pieces of paper of mine. It is not so very easy to persuade them to make this exchange; and I often, perhaps, blacken paper much to my own detriment. But still, sometimes these good people are quite ready and willing to give their silver and gold for my blackened paper. Now, why should the good law, that is so tender and loving to me as regards the bit of land that I possess, be so harsh to me about my bits of blackened paper? It says that any body else may blacken the paper in the same way as I have done, after few years have passed, and that my poor grandchild—so like me too, as everybody says he is—shall have no interest or property in my blackened bits of paper. I cannot see the justice of this proceeding. It seems to me very much like robbery.
Some say—but their saying does not console me—that my blackening of paper may be very interesting and valuable to the human race, and that my naughty grandchild may say that there has been enough of this blackening of grandpapa's, and that he should wish to put a stop to it. I have not, however, observed that many persons are anxious to put a stop to anything, however injurious to the public, from which they derive a revenue. And in the present case it has been admitted that this blackening of paper done by me has been useful and valuable to mankind. My grandson, if he is at all like his grandfather, will not refuse any money which may come to him honestly. [28-30]
[Helps, Sir Arthur]. Brevia: Short Essays and Aphorisms by the Author of “Friends in Council”. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1871. The reverse of the title page has the following: “Chiswick Press: — printed by Whittingham and Wilkins, Tooks Court, Chancery Lane [London].”
Last modified 5 December 2011