§ (1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, the author of a work shall be the first owner of the copyright therein:
§ Provided that—
- (a) where in the case of an engraving, photograph, or portrait the plate or other original was ordered by some other person and was made for valuable consideration in pursuance of that order, then, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, the person by whom such plate or other original was ordered shall be the first owner of the copyright; and
- (b) where the author was in the employment of some other person under a contract of service or apprenticeship and the work was made in the course of his employment by that person, the person by whom the author was employed shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be the first owner of the copyright.
§ (2) The owner of the copyright in any work may assign the right, either wholly or partially, and either generally or sub- 2134 ject to limitations to any particular country, and either for the whole term of the copyright or for any part thereof, and may grant any interest in the right by licence, but no such assignment or grant shall be valid unless it is in writing signed by the owner of the right in respect of which the assignment or grant is made, or by his duly authorised agent.
§ Provided that where the author of a work is the first owner of the copyright therein, no assignment of the copyright, and no grant of any interest therein, made by him otherwise than by will after the passing of this Act, shall be operative to vest in the assignee or grantee any rights with respect to the copyright in the work beyond the expiration of twenty-five years from the death of the author, and the reversionary interest in the copyright expectant on the termination of that period shall on the death of the author, notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary, devolve on his legal personal representatives as part of his estate, and any agreement entered into by him as to the disposition of such reversionary interest shall be null and void.
§ (3) Where under any partial assignment of copyright the assignee becomes entitled to any right comprised in copyright, the assignee as respects the right so assigned, and the assignor as respects the rights not assigned, shall be treated for the purposes of this Act as the owner of the copyright, and the provisions of this Act shall have effect accordingly.
§ Amendment made: At the end of Subsection (2), insert the words, "but nothing in this proviso shall be construed as applying to the assignment of the copyright in a collective work or a licence to publish a work as part of a collective work."—[Sir J. Simon.]
§ Mr. BOOTH
I beg to move, to insert at the end of Sub-section (3) the words, "Provided that where a sale of copyright has taken place before the passing of this Act, the property in such copyright shall revert to the author or first owner or his dependents upon the completion of the term of copyright authorised by the law existing prior to this Act coming into force, and the absolute proprietary rights of copyright shall vest in the author or first owner or his dependents until the expiry of the additional term granted by this Act."
I think I have made it clear to the House. It is framed in the interest of the author. 2135 I do not hesitate to say that it may be against the interests of the rich publisher and dealer. I think this is a very excellent Amendment in order to lest whether those who oppose the Bill are sincere. The object of the Amendment is this: Where a man has sold his copyright under the existing law the purchaser shall enjoy it for the existing term, but where this new Act extends the term and gives a longer period the copyright shall revert back to the author and his family. Some have had the confidence to suggest that the Bill was introduced in the interests of the poor author. If there is any sincerity in the position of the Government or the hon. Members opposite who are the originators of this kind of legislation; and if it is in favour of the poor author, I cannot see how they can oppose this Amendment. I think where a bargain has been made it is not right, hastily to extend the terms so that the purchaser, when he buys it obtains a period for which he did not pay. I have been attacked for some of my references in this House, because I intervened in the interests of these authors.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
I would like to ask the Solicitor-General whether provision is not already made for reversion to the author.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
We are all in sympathy with his view. The only objection is that it has already been provided for in the terms of the Bill.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sir GILBERT PARKER
I beg to move, at the end of the Clause to add the words:
"In the case of an assignee of copyright becoming bankrupt the royalties due under the agreement to the author shall continue to be paid to the author by any purchaser of the rights of such assignee if the work is thereafter published, and if not thereafter published, the copyright shall at once revert to the author."
2136 The Solicitor-General will remember that upstairs in Committee I raised this point because a case had lately been decided in the court against an author. The case is known as Warwick Deeping v. Grant Richards. The author had made a partial assignment of his copyright. The publisher became bankrupt and the courts decided that the purchaser of the copyright was not bound to pay the royalties of the original agreement. The Committee all agreed that if that was the case it was a great injustice to the author. We made it clear that we desired that if a bankruptcy should occur the copyright should revert to the author. The Solicitor-General and the Solicitor to the Board of Trade at that time agreed it was a hardship, and the Solicitor-General said that on Report stage an effort would be made to put this right in the Bill. I understand the Government have found it difficult to insert a Clause dealing with this because it would appear by doing so they would add to this Act something that properly belongs to a Bankruptcy Act and that we might be contravening by the insertion of such an Amendment conditions which now exist under the Bankruptcy Law. I received a letter from the President of the Board of Trade pointing out these difficulties and saying that at the present time it was the opinion of the Board of Trade that an author was protected under the Copyright Act.
If it would not be considered a breach of confidence I will quote a suggestion made in the letter. It is regarding the suggestion that the trustee in bankruptcy can sell the copyright free of the obligation to pay royalties. The letter states that:—If the person who acquires the copyright from the trustee has notice of this obligation, i.e., if he knows or ought to know that the obligation exists, there is authority for saying that he is himself bound to pay the stipulated royalties to the author. See Copinger on Copyright (1893 edition), p. 960. … For these reasons, I hope you will agree that it is undesirable to propose any amendment, especially as the author can protect himself by making a proper assignment in the first instance.We have a case decided in court very lately, and it is a serious grievance and one which ought to be put right. I do not want to press the Amendment, in view of the difficulties that the Government say exist regarding it, if I can get from the Solicitor-General a clear statement on the matter, and he can show me that author under the present law will be protected in spite of the judgment.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The difficulty with which this Amendment is designed to deal is one with which we all feel a good deal of sympathy, and not the less so because I understand the hon. Gentleman knows of a case which has produced actual hardship; but I think the House will see it is hardly possible in a Copyright Bill to deal with something which would involve an alteration—I think a general alteration—of one of the principles of the Bankruptcy Law. I think it is a general proposition, of the Bankruptcy Law, if a vendor has sold his goods on the terms that he has passed the property in his goods and he is going to wait till afterwards to get paid, and if the person in whom he has shown this touching confidence goes bankrupt; so much the worse for the vendor of the goods. That is the law of bankruptcy, and I do not think we ought in a Copyright Bill to alter a principle of the Bankruptcy Law. If it is done at all, it will have to be done on a general consideration of the principles of the Bankruptcy Law. While I am quite willing to accept what the hon. Gentleman tells me is the result of the case he has particularly in mind, it is far from being the fact that an author is necessarily exposed to this risk and danger when he deals with a publisher whose financial position may be insecure. It does not at all follow that the author assigns his copyright. It may be he keeps his copyright and gives a licence to produce, and he is at liberty to say it is a licence to produce by the publisher and by nobody else. There, of course, he keeps the copyright and does not run any risk at all.
Sir GILBERT PARKER
I am sure the Solicitor-General wishes I should understand him quite clearly. Do I understand, if an author makes an agreement with a publisher, and names that publisher for a limited period of time, say five or seven years, and does not dispose of his copyright altogether, he is secure, and that the purchaser of that agreement is bound to pay the royalty?
§ Sir J. SIMON
That was not quite what I said, but I want to make myself plain. In the first instance, an author has two ways of turning his product to advantage. One way is to sell or assign the copyright. If he does that, of course the purchaser acquires the copyright, and that is the circumstance in which the difficulty may arise if the purchaser becomes bankrupt. The author's alternative method is to keep the copyright and to confer on the publisher 2138 not the copyright, but a licence for a period of years to produce. It is perfectly competent to anybody who gives such a licence to impose upon the publisher the condition that it is a licence in the publisher to produce, and in nobody else to produce. That is one way. I am strongly inclined to think it can also be done by another form of agreement in which an effective charge is made upon the copyright in the hands of the publisher to secure the royalty. I fear, under the existing law, it is not possible for a man to sell the copyright of a book to a publisher hoping all would go well on the terms that the publisher will pay him from time to time reward in the form of royalty, and then when the publisher goes bankrupt for him to enforce that bargain against the purchaser of the copyright. I am rather afraid that is the difficulty. The hon. Gentleman tells me he finds it has arisen. I am obliged to say, on behalf of the Government, it is difficult for us to see how this Clause can be introduced in a Copyright Bill, and we regret it. It seems hardly possible, in dealing with this particular subject to effect a change which will either involve a great exception to a general principle of the law of bankruptcy or involve a general amendment in the law of bankruptcy. That is quite outside the scope of a Copyright Bill. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman we cannot do more at present, but, if anybody between now and when this Bill appears in another place can find another form of words, the Government will by no means refuse to consider them. I regret, however, that at present we do not see our way to go further.
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and negatived.