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The progress of the nation page 3


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By various decisions in the latter part of the reign of George III., the utmost licence was given to criticism on books. Lord Ellenborough ruled, in 1805, that almost anything may be said of a book, however false, so that the author is not attacked personally - that would be actionable.

Another question which occupied a considerable portion of attention during this reign was that of copyright, both in writing and in mechanical processes. With regard to purely literary copyright, there had been no legislation till the reign of queen Anne. Property in books was considered, like any other property, protected by the common law of the land. At that time authors, who, for the most part, depended on the patronage of the titled, and wrote the most fulsome flatteries to them, instead of depending on the public at large, were thought sufficiently remunerated by the proceeds of their works for a limited term of years. It was thought good law, even by Blackstone, in his time, that books were the result of labour and invention, and that, therefore, an author had only a right of occupancy in his writings. The results of labour and invention, in money made by trade, were deemed inalienable; but the results of the same labour and invention, in some work destined to civilise and intellectually enrich unborn generations, were only deemed worthy of a few years' appropriation by the author. It was deemed that a man's dunghill, or his ash- heap, was more real property than the creations of the mind, for those commodities no one shall, to the end of time, seize on without committing a felony; but that any one should be at liberty to seize on an author's books after eight- and-twenty years from their first publication. By the 8th of Anne, c. 19, it was enacted that, after the 10th of April, 1710, the authors of books already printed, who had not transferred their rights, and the booksellers and others who had purchased such rights, should have the sole privilege of printing and reprinting them for twenty one year^; and the authors of books not yet printed, and their assigns, should have the sole right of printing and reprinting them for fourteen years; but if an author outlived these respective terms of fourteen or twenty-one years, and had sold his copyright, at that period it should return to him for another fourteen years. The booksellers, however, soon found a form of words in agreements which generally prevented an author receiving his copyright back again. Fourteen or twenty-one years, therefore, might be considered the real term of copyright in an author.

This right was extended, by an act of 54 Geo. III. c. 156, to a term of twenty-eight years absolutely, and for the author's life if he survived that period. The booksellers made various attempts to set aside the restrictions of the copyright act of Anne, but in vain. Bishop Warburton and others defended the right as existing in common law, and not to be extinguished by particular enactment, any more than any other property. On the contrary, Mr., afterwards lord Thurlow, in the case of Tonson v. Collins, regarding the copyright of the " Spectator," as counsel for the defendant, declared that there was no more claim for a copyright in books than in other inventions; that one was the labour of heads, and the other of hands, but that heads were required for "both, and therefore it merely amounted to a difference in heads. And this reasoning was thought, for a long time, very admirable by those who would not have been very willing to see the same rule applied to the accumulation of fees by legal heads. The act of Anne declared that this mulcting of authors was for the benefit of literature; and, on the same principle, it would be for the benefit of agriculture that landed estates should continue in the possession of their owners only for eight and-twenty years, or for their lives; that manufactories should be taken away at the end of the same term for the benefit of manufactures, and ships for the benefit of merchandise. Since the reign of George III. literary copyright has been somewhat more extended by a bill introduced by Sergeant Talfourd, and passed in 1842. A copyright in dramatic productions was passed in 1833, in the reign of William IV. To check the invasion of copyright the owners can proceed by action for damages, by action for penalties upon the statute, or by injunction in the court of chancery. The latter is the commonly sought remedy. By a case brought before lord Hardwicke, Pope v. Curll, it was decided that a man has the same copyright in his manuscript letters as in other of his writings. Till the Dramatic Authors' Protection Act, passed in 1833, plays were at the mercy of anyone who chose to act them, representations on the stage not being considered an invasion of right within the meaning of the copyright acts. Lecturers were equally at the mercy of short-hand writers till 1835, when an act was passed protecting them. A copyright in prints and engravings was established by an act, of 17 Geo. III.

The idea of lord Thurlow regarding other inventions than books, was not lost sight of by those whose interests were concerned, and copyright was extended to original patterns for printing linens, cottons, calicoes, muslins, &c., by an act in 1787. The copyright only extended over two months, and the name of the printer or manufacturer was to be printed at the end of each piece of linen, cotton, &c. The term was extended to three months, by a second act in 1794. The benefits of this copyright have been extended to designs for other articles of manufacture by the 2 Vic., 1839. By an act of 38 Geo. III. c. 71, that is, in the year 1798, copyright was given in models and casts of any bust, or any part of the human figure, or any statue of the human figure, or the head or any part, or the statue of any animal.

The position of the judges was improved by an act in the first year of this reign. The acts 2 and 3 of William III. had abolished the insecure tenure of their office, by changing it from durante bene placito into quamdiu se bene gesserint; but till the commencement of the reign of George III. their commissions terminated with the demise of the crown. The 1 Geo. III. c. 23 altered this, making their commissions and their salaries independent of the demise of the crown.

In the twelfth year of George III. a most important alteration was made regarding the marriages of any branch of the royal family. In 1772 an act was passed, making all marriages invalid by any male or female descendant of George II., contracted without the king's consent, signified under the great seal, declared in council, and entered on the books of the privy council. But, by a second section of f he act, any such descendant being above the age of twenty-five years may give notice to the king's privy council, that lie or she ( persists in his or lier intention to contract such marriage, and, providing that both houses of parliament do not express their disapprobation of such intended marriage within twelve months of such notice, may contract such marriage, and it shall be legal. So that royal marriages, after all, do not finally depend upon the crown, but upon parliament. Any person solemnising, assisting, or being present at any such prohibited marriages, incur the penalties of the Statute of prcemunire.

In the ninth year of this reign the king's prerogative was limited in regard to neglected claims. If any rights to lands, manors, tenements, rents, tithes, or hereditaments had been wholly neglected for sixty years before commencing any suit for them, they were wholly lost. This was a very profitable act to many noblemen and others who had held lands or other property under the crown which had been lost sight of for that period. It did not, however, extend to liberties or franchises.

The early years of the reign of George III. saw great changes effected in the legislative condition of Ireland. From the most distant periods of the annexation of Ireland to Great Britain, the doctrines of the most complete subjection had been preached up in England towards that island. Even in this reign, Blackstone holds that doctrine in his " Commentaries," p. 103, so inconsistent with his ordinary ideas of right and justice. He says the supremacy of England over Ireland is founded on " what we usually call, though somewhat improperly, the right of conquest, a right allowed by the law of nations, if not by that of nature; but which, in reason and civil polity, can mean nothing more than that, in order to put an end to hostilities, a compact is either expressly or tacitly made between the conqueror and the conquered, that, if they will acknowledge the victor for their master, he will treat them in future as subjects and not as enemies." This certainly was the principle on which Ireland had been long governed. If the Irish were treated as subjects, it was as such as had no right to the same privileges as the other British subjects. They were allowed to retain their own parliaments; but in the reign of Henry VII., in 1495, a set of statutes was passed by the then lord-lieutenant, Sir Edward Poynings, rendering the Irish parliament wholly dépendent on the English parliament. These statutes, thenceforward called " Poynings' Acts," settled that no parliament should be called in Ireland until the governor and council had submitted to the king and his council in England the reasons for proposing to assemble a parliament, and the acts proposed to be passed in it; that, after the king and council had expressed their assent, such parliament might be held, and the acts, so far as they approved of them, might be passed, and that no parliament should be held at any other times except under these conditions, and none but the acts so allowed in England should be introduced, passed, or rejected. In the reign of Philip and Mary, 1556, this rigour was somewhat relaxed, but not so far as to allow parliaments to be summoned by the lord-lieutenant without waiting for the sanction of the king in council; it was still required that no acts should be introduced, or passed, until they had been sent to England, and certified back under the great seal. After this a further apparent liberty was allowed. This was to permit the Irish parliament not to introduce acts, but " heads of bills; " but this was no real privilege, for nothing was admitted into these heads but what was previously approved of by the English council. These heads were drawn up by the governors and council, and so 1 communicated to the king and his council, and so far as approved, were introduced into the Irish parliament. To make this state of utter dependence retrospective, one of Poynings' acts decreed that all statutes " lately " passed in England should be binding on Ireland, and the lawyers speedily interpreted this " lately " as extending to the whole period of Ireland's subjection to England. To such a length was this carried, that Coke lays it down that the parliament of England had full power to legislate for Ireland, and that any English act in which Ireland was named was as binding on that country as if passed by the Irish parliament itself.

It is not to be supposed that the Irish willingly conceded these monstrous assumptions. They, on the contrary, uniformly denounced them as contrary to all right. Two treatises - one by lord chancellor Bolton, and the other by Sergeant Mayart - were published in the middle of the seventeenth Century. After the revolution, so far from Ireland gaining by that change, as a catholic country which had so prominently sided with the expelled Stuarts, the cords of legislation were drawn tighter. The increased pressure produced increased resistance. The Irish parliament boldly introduced and passed an act for the better security of his majesty's person and government, which was but a re-enacting of a like act passed in England. This was evidently to set aside the assumption that the passing parliamentary acts in England was sufficient for Ireland too. This was followed by a work, published in 1697, by William Molyneux, of Dublin, entitled, " The case of Ireland being bound by the Acts of Parliament of England stated," in which Molyneux denied the Tight of England to legislate for Ireland. The book was dedicated to king William. The house of commons took up the question in June, 1698, and passed a resolution, founded on the report of a committee, declaring the book unsound and dangerous, and they sent up a deputation to the king to lay this resolution before him, and to request him to take the necessary measures for putting a stop to such doctrines, and for restraining the Irish parliament from any further acts inconsistent with its dependence on England. William promised to comply, but let the matter drop.

The contest on this point went on, and was carried still further into binding the Irish house of lords not to entertain any appeals from the Irish courts of law. In 1719, an appeal having been made from the court of exchequer, in Ireland, to the Irish house of lords, that house reversed the judgment of the court. The parties then carried the appeal to the English house of lords, which confirmed the judgment of the Irish court of exchequer. The Irish house of lords, resenting the interference of the British peers, resolved that no appeal lay from the law courts of Ireland to the parliament of Great Britain, and ordered the arrest of the barons of the exchequer, for this appeal to England, by the usher of the black rod. The English house of lords addressed the king on the subject of their assumed prerogative, and passed a bill through their house declaring Ireland fully subordinate to England; that the British parliament had entire right to legislate for Ireland; and that the Irish house of lords had no right or jurisdiction to judge of or reverse any judgment, sentence, or decree, made in any court in that kingdom, and that all such proceedings of the Irish house of lords "were null and void. This bill was opposed in the commons by Pitt; and Mr. Hungerford asserted the doctrine that Ireland had always been independent of England as regarded the courts of judicature, and the same view was taken by lords Moles worth and Tyrconnel, but it passed by one hundred and forty votes against eighty- three.

The struggle between the Irish parliament and the English government had been equally strenuous and prolonged on the question of originating taxation. The council assumed to introduce money bills into the Irish commons. In general, the lord-lieutenant had majority enough to carry his budgets; but in 1690 they refused to pass a money bill, on the ground that it had not originated in their house; and again, in 1709, they threw out another, because, after they had passed it, it had been altered by the English commons. In 1769, or the ninth year of this reign, they threw out a money bill on the old ground, that it did not originate in their house, and they adroitly passed another, a bill of their own, which they knew would not be rejected, for it granted the same supplies not for three months only, as the original bill had done, but for two years. The lord-lieutenant took care to accept this money, but he then entered a protest in the journals of the Irish house of lords against the legality of the practice, and abruptly dismissed the parliament. The English house of commons proposed an address to the king, praying for a copy of the instructions given to the lord-lieutenant in regard to this sudden prorogation, but this was opposed by ministers, and rejected.

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Pictures for The progress of the nation page 3

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