The Historical Spectator.

Why I Pirated This Book, by a Famous English Publisher

In 1850, there was no reciprocal copyright agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom. American publishers vigorously opposed any such agreement as long as English literature was dominated by English writers, since they could print popular books without paying their authors a cent. But serious agitation for an agreement began when American writers started gaining worldwide reputations. Here the London publisher Henry G. Bohn expresses his frustration at a state of things that led him to print a pirated edition of Washington Irving’s Mahomet and His Successors. Washington Irving, amusingly enough, was the leading proponent of international copyright in the United States; as the United States’ leading literary figure at the time, he had much to gain.

The publisher has not willingly thrust himself forward as a crusader in the cause of international copyright, but has been goaded by circumstances into some such position. Not only have the most popular of his own volumes from time to time been pirated* in America, immediately upon their publication here, but on the other hand, when he has endeavoured by arrangement with the American copyright-holder to obtain an exclusive market for England, his preferential claims have been set at nought by competitors. Under these circumstances it has become necessary, in self-defence, to adopt measures of reprisal; and although such a course may sometimes interfere, in a manner to be regretted, with the investments of friends on both sides the Atlantic, no other alternative seems to remain. In reprinting the present volume the publisher is less sensitive than he should have been under other circumstances, being aware that at this very moment there are several rival editions at press. This volume, too, being of a popular character, and the newest production of one of the most esteemed and influential of American authors, is especially suited to the object of this series. As it was published at New York in December last, imported and sold here in January, more than a fortnight before any English edition appeared, no one can reasonably complain of a competition, for which in the present condition of things he could hardly have been unprepared, and which is really enforced by scarcely less than national claims.

H. G. B.

York Street, Feb. 21, 1850.

* As this is done legally, perhaps we ought to add “by letter of marque.”

Life of Mahomet. By Washington Irving. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1850.
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