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Charles Babbage and the Anglo-American Copyright Dispute Introduction

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129950D
Original Publication Date: 1996-Sep-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 2 page(s) / 17K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Brian Randell: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Brian Randell

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1996 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Charles Babbage and the Anglo-American Copyright Dispute Introduction

Brian Randell

Department of Computing Science University of Newcastle Newcastle upon Tyne NEI 7RU, England e-mail: Brian. randell @ newcastle.ac. uk phone: 44191222 7923 fax: 44191222 8232 url http://www. cs.ncl.ac. uk/brian. Randell/

In June 1995 I visited the magnificent Huntington Museum and Library in Pasadena, Calif. While checking one of the card indexes, I came across an entry for Charles Babbage, listing him as one of the authors of an 1837 petition to the U.S. Senate. This turned out to be a large folded parchment, much of which was taken up by a list of names and a set of 51 signatures, the signatures, either on the manuscript itself, or (as with the case of Babbage) cut from, presumably, a letter, and pasted to the manuscript. The main text on the manuscript started:

  (Image Omitted: Address of certain Authors of Great Britain to the Senate of the United States in Congress assembled. Respectfully showing: That authors of Great Britain have long been exposed to injury in their reputation and property from the want of a law by which the exclusive right to their respective writings may be secured to them in the United States of America; That, for want of such a law, deep and extensive injuries have of late been afflicted on their reputation and property, and on the interests of literature and science, which ought to constitute a bond of union and friendship between the United States and Great Britain.)

I was not aware that Babbage had ever been involved in any such protest. Later checking confirmed that there was no mention of it in either Babbage's own autobiographical work, Passages From the Life of a Philosopher [1], or in the standard Babbage biography by Hyman
[2]. However, a little research led me to a book by Barnes [3], in which this petition is described, and to the belated realization that the issue of copyright had for much of the 1800s been a significant bone of contention between Britain and the United States. Quoting from the preface to Barnes's book:

(Image Omitted: In 1838 Parliament passed legislation enabling Great Britain to become a party to international copyright agreement, and in the following decades a number of such treaties were signed with European states. However, Americans were suspicious about international copyright and feared that it meant exploitation and domination of their book trade. As a young nation the United States wanted the freedom to borrow literature as well as technology from any quarter of the globe, and it was not until 1891 that Congress finally recognized America's literary independence by authorizing reciprocal copyright agreements with foreign powers.)

Barnes gives a full account of the circumstances surrounding the prep...