Three Hundred Years Since the Statute of Anne, from 1709 to Cyberspace
Edited by Lionel Bently, Uma Suthersanen and Paul Torremans
Victor Nabhan* Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends, In 1812 a book was published, the title of which is very telling. It was called ‘Calamities and Quarrels of Authors’. In this book, the author, Isaac Disraeli, draws a rather bleak picture of the situation of authors. ‘In all nations of Europe, [he asserts] authors, though they have been the most honored, were nevertheless the least remunerated.’ ‘Authors continue poor’, he goes on, ‘and booksellers become opulent’. ‘They are heirs to fortunes, but by a strange singularity they are disinherited at their birth; for, on the publication of their works, these cease to be their own property.’ ‘Most of them close their lives in apathy and despair, and too many live by means which few of them would not blush to describe.’ This dramatic description is well portrayed by a poem attributed to a mendicant author: Forgive me, God, although I curse my birth, And ban the air wherein I breathe a wretch! For misery hath daunted all my mirth — In some far land will I my griefs rehearse, England, adieu! the soil that brought me forth! Adieu, unkinde! where skill is nothing worth! Despite this rather dramatic depiction, Disraeli finds, however, some reason for solace. In a chapter entitled ‘The Suffering of Authors’ he refers to ‘That Act of Anne which confers on them some right of property, acknowledges that works of learned men have been carried on too often to the ruin of them and their families.’ 300 years later,...