Mark Twain's nutty 1906 plan to extend copyright


Alek sez, "The boundless archive of the NYT has spat out for me an article about Mark Twain's cunning plan to beat the early 20th century copyright law, with its short copyright terms. In short, Twain planned to republish every one of his works the moment it went out of copyright, with one-third more content in the shape of his serialized bibliography. He hoped that availability of such 'premium' version will make prints based on the out-of-copyright version less desirable on the market. There's a gem in the first paragraph - the author suggests that Twain's plan 'makes the present copyright law look like a very sick and discomfited pirate, indeed.' So, who's the pirate here?!" Link (Thanks, Alek!)

Update: Siva Vaidhyanathan sez, "I have an entire chapter in my first book about Twain and his shifting ideas about copyright. At the beginning, he was totally tolerant -- even celebratory -- about use, re-use, and revision. And he loved cheap books, so he was critical of efforts toward a treaty with the British and for term extension.

Only later, when he was old and worried that his daughters could not make a living for themselves, did he get interested in perpetual copyright. His plan was indeed wacky. But it reveals a lot about the status of authorship and the state of American publishing at the turn of the 20th century. (See Copyrights and Copywrongs, Ch. 2)"

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