§ An action in respect of infringement of copyright shall not be commenced after the expiration of three years next after the infringement.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I beg to move, to leave out the words "three years," and to insert instead thereof the words "one year." This is a matter on which I am open to compromise. I do object to a man being able to hold over a threatened action for a period of three years. If he is satisfied that there is some infringement of his copyright going on it should be his duty to take action at once and not to wait for three years in order to see whether it is worth his while to put in a claim. That seems to me to be a very objectionable provision. Three years is far too long, and the ends of justice might well be met by allowing him not more than two years before he pounces on the offender.
§ Mr. J. WARD
I beg to second this Amendment. Of course it is desirable to have some provision by which the author shall not be deprived of his right to take action through not being aware that his copyright was being infringed during a certain period of time, but I do not think we ought to allow him to hold over his action for three years. The hon. Member for Lime house says that the author might not know that the infringement was going on and that is possible. In that case no doubt he should have this right. If the author knows that an offence is being committed he certainly ought to take proceedings before three years, and unless there are some limiting words of that description this seems to me a reasonable proposition.
§ Sir J. SIMON
As far as summary jurisdiction proceedings are concerned, the three years would not apply. There is a general rule that when one takes proceedings under the Summary Jurisdiction Act, which is the way we have to take proceedings under Clause 11, they must be taken within six months of the time of the offence being committed. The class of case which is being dealt with here is 2146 not a criminal case at all, but the case of the owner of the copyright who is bringing an action for damages against a knowingly guilty party. Under the existing law there is a great variation of periods. In some cases it is shorter than three years and in others it is as much as six. The hon. Gentleman suggests that you might have a provision that it should be a period which only lasts from the time when the plaintiff knows what has happend. I suggest that that is really an undesirable complication. It raises an extra issue— sometimes a very difficult one to determine. It really is, as a rule, better to lay down a suitable length of time. When the old copyright laws were made in the early part of the century what we were thinking of was copyright within these islands. The days of international copyright had really not arisen. While I do not regard this as a matter on which the Government feel any obligation to insist on the figure, I would ask the good sense of the House as to whether they really think three years is too much. If it is the general sense of the House that it is too much, there is no difficulty about reducing it. It will not very often happen, because a man who claims damages wants them as soon as possible, but I can conceive the case of an author, probably a struggling author rather than a great and popular author, who finds, it may be a considerable time after his book has been published, say in England, that it is, in fact, being infringed in some other part of the British Dominions or elsewhere. The question before the House is really one which anyone here can judge as well as I. I believe I have stated the conditions fairly. We are trying to get a general period. Is not three years perhaps a reasonable period in the circumstances? It involves a reduction from six to three in some eases and a rise in other cases.
§ Sir W. ANSON
I hope the Government will adhere to the three years. I am quite aware that there are different periods of limitation, but I think, on the whole, three years is the more common period within which a civil action must be commenced. Also there is the very important point that, now that we have international copyright, a shorter period than three years might press very hardly on a man who, I am sure, hon. Members on the other side would not desire to press hard, and that is the struggling author who finds that his work is being infringed in some other quarter of the globe.
§ Mr. BOOTH
What was in my mind was musical infringement. The discussion has taken the turn of only considering literary infringement. That is the inconvenience of a Bill like this which deals with all together in a hotch-potch. I can quite see that there is an objection and that the poor author might suffer. In deference to what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.