Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCLXXIX

An Extension of Copyright

One of the pleasant things that came to Mark Twain that year was the passage of a copyright bill, which added to the royalty period an extension of fourteen years. Champ Clark had been largely instrumental in the success of this measure, and had been fighting for it steadily since Mark Twain’s visit to Washington in 1906. Following that visit, Clark wrote:

. . . It [the original bill] would never pass because the bill had literature and music all mixed together. Being a Missourian of course it would give me great pleasure to be of service to you. What I want to say is this: you have prepared a simple bill relating only to the copyright of books; send it to me and I will try to have it passed.

Clemens replied that he might have something more to say on the copyright question by and by — that he had in hand a dialogue 188 which would instruct Congress, but this he did not complete. Meantime a simple bill was proposed and early in 1909 it became a law. In June Clark wrote:

188 [Similar to the “Open Letter to the Register of Copyrights,” North American Review, January, 1905.]

DR. SAMUEL L. CLEMENS, Stormfield, Redding, Conn.

MY DEAR DOCTOR — I am gradually becoming myself again, after a period of exhaustion that almost approximated prostration. After a long lecture tour last summer I went immediately into a hard campaign; as soon as the election was over, and I had recovered my disposition, I came here and went into those tariff hearings, which began shortly after breakfast each day, and sometimes lasted until midnight. Listening patiently and meekly, withal, to the lying of tariff barons for many days and nights was followed by the work of the long session; that was followed by a hot campaign to take Uncle Joe’s rules away from him; on the heels of that “Campaign that Failed” came the tariff fight in the House. I am now getting time to breathe regularly and I am writing to ask you if the copyright law is acceptable to you. If it is not acceptable to you I want to ask you to write and tell me how it should be changed and I will give my best endeavors to the work. I believe that your ideas and wishes in the matter constitute the best guide we have as to what should be done in the case. Your friend, CHAMP CLARK.

To this Clemens replied:

STORMFIELD, REDDING, CONN, June 5, 1909.

DEAR CHAMP CLARK — Is the new copyright law acceptable to me? Emphatically yes! Clark, it is the only sane & clearly defined & just & righteous copyright law that has ever existed in the United States. Whosoever will compare it with its predecessors will have no trouble in arriving at that decision.

The bill which was before the committee two years ago when I was down there was the most stupefying jumble of conflicting & apparently irreconcilable interests that was ever seen; and we all said “the case is hopeless, absolutely hopeless — out of this chaos nothing can be built.” But we were in error; out of that chaotic mass this excellent bill has been constructed, the warring interests have been reconciled, and the result is as comely and substantial a legislative edifice as lifts its domes and towers and protective lightning-rods out of the statute book I think. When I think of that other bill, which even the Deity couldn’t understand, and of this one, which even I can understand, I take off my hat to the man or men who devised this one. Was it R. U. Johnson? Was it the Authors’ League? Was it both together? I don’t know, but I take off my hat, anyway. Johnson has written a valuable article about the new law — I inclose it.

At last — at last and for the first time in copyright history — we are ahead of England! Ahead of her in two ways: by length of time and by fairness to all interests concerned. Does this sound like shouting? Then I must modify it: all we possessed of copyright justice before the 4th of last March we owed to England’s initiative. Truly yours, S. L. CLEMENS.

Clemens had prepared what was the final word an the subject of copyright just before this bill was passed — a petition for a law which he believed would regulate the whole matter. It was a generous, even if a somewhat Utopian, plan, eminently characteristic of its author. The new fourteen-year extension, with the prospect of more, made this or any other compromise seem inadvisable.189

189 [The reader may consider this last copyright document by Mark Twain under Appendix N.]

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05