Sunday, March 26, 2006

Mark Twain and intellectual property

Long before NTP and RIM, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) was a victim in the intellectual property area. The way Clemens resolved his problem, with a business approach, is instructive to present day participants in the intellectual property arena.

From Ron Powers, Mark Twain: a Life, at page 323: Business as well as literary resaerch finally informed his [Clemens'] choice. In England he could set about solving an almost insoluble problem, but one that infuriated him more than it did most authors: protecting his work against unauthorized printing and sale by a foreign publisher. Such practice was not against the law--there were no laws in this area. In the years before 1886 [Berne Convention], no American writer could control, or profit from, the republication of his or her work in England. The same was true in reverse. Regulations did not exist because American publishers had not pushed for regulations. Why should they? The balance of republication profits flowed their way: the enormous U.S. popularity of Dickens and other British writers overwhelmed that of most American authors in Britain.

One notes that statutory law, then as now, was tracking the needs of the population, not of the authors (or inventors). The purpose of intellectual property law is not to enrich authors, and never has been. Powers continues: The idea of being denied a reward from his labor, while other people enriched themselves from it, outraged him, and he would pursue the battle for authors' rights throughout the rest of his life.

In the face of an imperfect system, Clemens cut a deal with the British publishing house Routledge & Sons for them to publish "authorized" editions. Given the law at the time, he created a business solution. Businessmen of the 21st century should make a note.

[Ron Powers, Mark Twain: a Life, Free Press, 2005]

The book also, obliquely, touches on other IP issues.

At page 535, there is discussion of Clemens' dislike for Edison's phonograph, used as a dictation machine. ["I not only curse and swear all the time I am dictating..."; the machine is "as grave & unsmiling as the devil."]

At page 467, there is discussion of Sam's brother, Orion Clemens, trying to get Sam to invest in the installation of electric lights in Keokuk, Iowa. The date is December 1882. This is after Edison's patent but during the time there was an interference, resolved unfavorably against Edison. Edison's patent was not yet vindicated in the courts.

At page 408, there is mention of Sam installing Hartford's first private telephone in the fall of 1877. There is a quote from Clemens: "If I write all the books that lie planned in my head, I shall see the middle of the next century." [There is also discussion of the infamous story told by Clemens on December 17, 1877 at the Hotel Brunswick in Boston, wherein, among other things, Oliver Wendell Holmes was referred to as a three hundred pound blubberball.]

At page 339, there is mention of Orion (who had been a law clerk) working on the invention of a flying machine, circa 1872.

At page 415, Clemens is quoted on Jules Verne: "I think the world has suffered so much from that French idiot thay they could enyou seeing him burlesqued--but I doubt if they want to see him imitated."


Blogger em2histbuff33 said...

Mark Twain was brilliant in many ways. Did you know that many of Mark Twain's books are available online free like
The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc is available online here

11:51 AM  

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