4.2.8: 1830 - 1910 - Copyright and piracy

As the word indicates, copyright did not so much concern the rights of the author to his brainchild, but rather who was allowed to profit from the duplication of the copy. Even as late as the nineteenth century, people openly wondered if the author could call himself the legal owner of his text at all. After all, words also exist without contribution from the writer and an idea, once it has been pronounced or written down, had achieved its highest goal and therefore belonged, from that moment on, to everyone, as J. Alberdink Thijm conveyed a much-heard argument. It did happen that a publisher interfered with the work of an author in a way that would nowadays be unthinkable. Major problems occurred for example with regard to the 'editing' by Jacob van Lennep of Multatuli's Max Havelaar and with regard to the publication of Verspreide dicht- en prozawerken of H. Tollens Cz. in 1857, one year after the poet's death. The publisher P.M. van Cleef Iz. had gathered at his own initiative precisely those poems from magazines and almanacs which Tollens himself did not want to see reprinted, and the publisher had moreover edited the text a great deal (as many as 153 changes in one single poem). After a court action he was forced to withdraw the book from circulation.

It was not disputed that a writer was entitled to financial revenues resulting from 'duplication', but under the 1817 Copyright Act he could assign this copyright to the publisher. In theory, this protected the investment of the publisher against unauthorised reprinting. Yet, piracy still occurred on a large scale in the nineteenth century, especially in the border region with Belgium where many schoolbooks but also the popular Dutch poets and translations were reprinted for the Flemish market. J. van Dieren of Antwerp was notorious for this. School editions were perceived as books for public welfare and for that reason excluded, as were bibles, from copyright under the 1817 Copyright Act. Works that were published anonymously or under a pseudonym were also not covered by the Copyright Act. Another omission in the Act concerned the Dutch East Indies. Since the Copyright Act did not apply to the colonies, Dutch editions could be reprinted there with impunity as happened with the serials published in newspapers, but by and large publishers behaved correctly towards one another. Pirating editions of direct colleagues seems to have been a practice mainly of smaller and unknown firms without a reputation to lose. The Act and the problems resulting from it were discussed extensively by, among others, A.C. Kruseman, and also by Frederik Muller who criticised publisher Binger because the latter had reprinted work by J. Motley and Heinrich Heine. This concerned piracies of foreign editions by a foreign publisher. Thereupon the Nieuwsblad voor den boekhandel (Newspaper for the book trade) printed a list of names of similar sinners, among whom in this case also a few renowned firms.

A number of problems were solved in the new Act of 1881, which became effective on 1 January 1882. No longer a question only of copyright, but also of author's copyright and the previously omitted categories were now given the same protection of fifty years after the first publication and, if the author was still alive, for the rest of his life. However, it was still necessary for the author to take steps himself to claim his copyright by sending two copies to the Department of Justice. Foreign works were still not protected, as the Netherlands joined the Berne Convention (1886), a treaty to guarantee international protection, only in 1912. The Dutch refusal implied that foreign authors whose work was translated here could not count on remuneration. However, a treaty was entered into with some individual countries, promising to respect one another's copyrights: with France in 1855, with Belgium in 1858 and with Spain in 1862. Not with Germany, so that the number of translations from the German was considerable.

author: L. Kuitert

Copyright and piracy