# Primary Sources on Copyright - Record Viewer
Letter from Joel Barlow to the Continental Congress (1783)

Source: The National Archives, Center for Legislative Archives: Papers of the Continental Congress, RG 360, 4: 369-373 (No. 78).

Letter from Joel Barlow to the Continental Congress (1783), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org

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secured in the profits arising from their labor,
and in that way received encouragement in some
proportion to their merit in advancing the hap-
piness of mankind.
      There is certainly no kind of property, in the nature
of things, so much his own, as the works which a person
originates from his own creative imagination: And
when he has spent great part of his life in study,
wasted his time, his fortune & perhaps his health
in improving his knowledge & correcting his taste,
it is a principle of natural justice that he
should be entitled to the profits arising from the
sale of his works as a compensation for his labor
in producing them, & his risque of reputation
in offering them to the Public. From these
considerations it is, that most of the civilized nati-
ons have removed the natural obstructions which
lie in the way of literary emulation, & given
the consequent encouragement to every species of
laudable ambition.
      America has convinced the world of her im-
portance in a political & military line by the
wisdom, energy & ardor for liberty which distinguish
the present era. A literary reputation is ne-
cessary in order to complete her national character; and she
ought to encourage that variety & independence
of genius, in which she is not excelled by any
nation in Europe. As we have few Gentlemen of
fortune sufficient to enable them to spend a
whole life in study, or enduce others to do it by
their patronage, it is more necessary, in this
country than in any other, that the rights of
authors should be secured by law. In England,
your Excellency is sensible that the copy-right
of any book or pamphlet is holden by the


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