'Uncle Tom' at Law, New York (1853)

Source: American Antiquarian Society

'Uncle Tom' at Law, New York (1853), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,

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      Mrs. STOWE'S famous novel, after a career without
precedent in literature, has at last arrived where litera-
ture can show plenty of precedents - it has got before
the Courts. It seems that Mr. F. W. THOMAS, a book-
seller of Philadelphia, has caused Uncle Tom's Cabin to
be translated into German, and has issued it in that lan-
guage. This Mrs. Stowe regards as a violation of her
copyright, and she has accordingly commenced a suit in
the U.S. Circuit Court of that city against the publish-
er. In her complaint she not only alleges that she is
the author of the original work, but that she has caus-
ed a German translation of it to be prepared and pub-
lished, with the sale of which, as well as with her essen-
tial property in the book, the translation of Mr. Thomas
is in conflict. She accordingly asks for a perpetual
injunction upon his publication. And, whether in or-
der that the principle involved may be settled, or
because she considers herself greatly wronged in this
case, or with a view to prevent other translations which
might be made, she has declined a proposal to com-
promise with Mr. Thomas, and insists on letting the law
take its course. We are glad, for the sake of having
the principle determined, that she has done so.
      It is an interesting question that is raised in this suit,
namely, Whether the property of an author in his book
extends beyond the language in which it is written, or
whether a version of it into another idiom forms a new
and distinct property belonging solely to the translator
by whom it is made. As for the absolute moral right, we
see nothing in the nature of things to limit the own-
ership of the author. It is his work, and it ought to
be for him to say on what terms others shall enjoy it,
in whatsoever time, place, or tongue. Such seems
to be the essential right of the case, - which is legiti-
mately subject only to such limitations and conditions
as Society, acting for the general welfare, may see fit to
establish. This right is recognized in the only copy-
right treaty with which we are acquainted between na-
tions of different language. No French book can now be
translated and published in England, nor can any French
play be translated and performed on the English stage
without the permission of the author; and Bulwer's
last novel is published in England with a notice forbid-


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