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Second General Revision of U.S. Copyright Law

Enacted by the Forty-first Congress on July 8, 1870

This series reprints for your examination the actual copyright laws of the United States through 1909. In order to ascertain whether someone back then "stole" or "plagiarized" from others, one has to determine what was considered "stealing" and what was not. While a copyrighted book might be able to be stolen, a book already in the public domain could not be.

A brief discussion and summary follows the law below.

We have highlighted in yellow the pertinent portions of the law. To remove this highlighting, click .

AN ACT to revise, consolidate, and amend the statutes relating to patents and copyrights.

SEC. 85. And be it further enacted, That all records and other things relating to copyrights and required by law to be preserved, shall be under the control of the Librarian of Congress, and kept and preserved in the Library of Congress; and the Librarian of Congress shall have the immediate care and supervision thereof, and, under the supervision of the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library, shall perform all acts and duties required by law touching copyrights. The Librarian shall cause a seal to be provided for said office, with such device as the Joint Committee on the Library may approve, with which all records or papers issued from said office, and to be used in evidence, shall be authenticated. He shall also give an additional bond, with sureties, to the Treasurer of the United States, in the sum of five thousand dollars, with the condition that he will render to the proper officers of the Treasury a true account of all moneys received by virtue of his office. He shall also make an annual report to Congress of the number and description of copyright publications for which entries have been made during the year. And the Librarian of Congress shall receive a yearly compensation of four thousand dollars, to commence when this act shall take effect.

SEC. 86. And be it further enacted, That any citizen of the United States, or resident therein, who shall be the author, inventor, designer, or proprietor of any book, map, chart, dramatic or musical composition, engraving, cut, print, or photograph or negative thereof, or of a painting, drawing, chromo, statue, statuary, and of models or designs intended to be perfected as works of the fine arts, and his executors, administrators, or assigns, shall, upon complying with the provisions of this act, have the sole liberty of printing, reprinting, publishing, completing, copying, executing, finishing, and vending the same; and in the case of a dramatic composition, of publicly performing or representing it, or causing it to be performed or represented by others; and authors may reserve the right to dramatize or to translate their own works.

SEC. 87. And be it further enacted, That copyrights shall be granted for the term of twenty-eight years from the time of recording the title thereof, in the manner hereinafter directed.

SEC. 88. And be it further enacted, That the author, inventor or designer, if he be still living, and a citizen of the United States or resident therein, or his widow or children, if he be dead, shall have the same exclusive right continued for the further term of fourteen years, upon recording the title of the work or description of the article so secured a second time, and complying with all other regulations in regard to original copyrights, within six months before the expiration of the first term. And such person shall, within two months from the date of said renewal, cause a copy of the record thereof to be published in one or more newspapers, printed in the United States, for the space of four weeks.

SEC. 89. And be it further enacted, That copyrights shall be assignable in law, by any instrument of writing, and such assignment shall be recorded in the office of the Librarian of Congress within sixty days after its execution, in default of which it shall be void as against any subsequent purchaser or mortgagee for a valuable consideration, without notice.

SEC. 90. And be it further enacted, That no person shall be entitled to a copyright unless he shall, before publication, deposit in the mail a printed copy of the title of the book or other article, or a description of the painting, drawing, chromo, statue, statuary, or model or design for a work of the fine arts, for which he desires a copyright, addressed to the Librarian of Congress, and, within ten days from the publication thereof, deposit in the mail two copies of such copyright book or other article, or in case of a painting, drawing, statue, statuary, model or design for a work of the fine arts, a photograph of the same, to be addressed to said Librarian of Congress, as hereinafter to be provided.

SEC. 91. And be it further enacted, That the Librarian of Congress shall record the name of such copyright book, or other article, forthwith in a book to be kept for that purpose, in the words following: "Library of Congress, to wit. Be it remembered that on the _________________ day of _________________, anno Domini _________________, A. B., of _________________, hath deposited in this office the title of a book, (map, chart, or otherwise, as the case may be, or description of the article,) the title or description of which is in the following words, to wit; (here insert the title or description,) the right whereof he claims as author, originator, (or proprietor, as the case may be,) in conformity with the laws of the United States respecting copyrights. C. D., Librarian of Congress." And he shall give a copy of the title or description, under the seal of the Librarian of Congress, to said proprietor whenever he shall require it.

SEC. 92. And be it further enacted, That for recording the title or description of any copyright book or other article, the Librarian of Congress shall receive, from the person claiming the same, fifty cents; and for every copy under seal actually given to such person or his assigns, fifty cents; and for recording any instrument of writing for the assignment of a copyright, fifteen cents for every one hundred words; and for every copy thereof, ten cents for every one hundred words, which moneys, so received, shall be paid into the Treasury of the United States.

SEC. 93. And be it further enacted, That the proprietor of every copyright book or other article shall mail to the Librarian of Congress at Washington, within ten days after its publication, two complete printed copies thereof, of the best edition issued, or description or photograph of such article as hereinbefore required, and a copy of every subsequent edition wherein any substantial changes shall be made.

SEC. 94. And be it further enacted, That in default of such deposit in the post-office, said proprietor shall be liable to a penalty of twenty-five dollars, to be collected by the Librarian of Congress, in the name of the United States, in an action of debt, in any district court of the United States within the jurisdiction of which the delinquent may reside or be found.

SEC. 95. And be it further enacted, That any such copyright book or other article may be sent to the Librarian of Congress by mail, free of postage, provided the words "Copyright matter" are plainly written or printed on the outside of the package containing the same.

SEC. 96. And be it further enacted, That the postmaster to whom such copyright book, title, or other article is delivered, shall, if requested, give a receipt therefor; and when so delivered he shall mail it to its destination, without cost to the proprietor.

SEC. 97. And be it further enacted, That no person shall maintain an action for the infringement of his copyright unless he shall give notice thereof by inserting in the several copies of every edition published, on the title page or the page immediately following, if it be a book; or if a map, chart, musical composition, print, cut, engraving, photograph, painting, drawing, chromo, statue, statuary, or model or design intended to be perfected and completed as a work of the fine arts, by inscribing upon some portion of the face or front thereof, or on the face of the substance on which the same shall be mounted, the following words, viz.: "Entered according to act of Congress, in the year _________________, by A. B., in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington."

SEC. 98. And be it further enacted, That if any person shall insert or impress such notice, or words of the same purport, in or upon any book, map, chart, musical composition, print, cut, engraving, or photograph, or other articles herein named, for which he has not obtained a copyright, every person so offending shall forfeit and pay one hundred dollars; one moiety thereof to the person who shall sue for the same, and the other to the use of the United States, to be recovered by action in any court of competent jurisdiction.

SEC. 99. And be it further enacted, That if any person, after the recording of the title of any book as herein provided, shall within the term limited, and without the consent of the proprietor of the copyright first obtained in writing, signed in presence of two or more witnesses, print, publish, or import, or, knowing the same to be so printed, published, or imported, shall sell or expose to sale any copy of such book, such offender shall forfeit every copy thereof to said proprietor, and shall also forfeit and pay such damages as may be recovered in a civil action by such proprietor in any court of competent jurisdiction.

SEC. 100. And be it further enacted, That if any person, after the recording of the title of any map, chart, musical composition, print, cut, engraving, or photograph, or chromo, or of the description of any painting, drawing, statue, statuary, or model or design intended to be perfected and executed as a work of the fine arts, as herein provided, shall, within the term limited, and without the consent of the proprietor of the copyright first obtained in writing, signed in presence of two or more witnesses, engrave, etch, work, copy, print, publish, or import, either in whole or in part, or by varying the main design with intent to evade the law, or, knowing the same to be so printed, published, or imported, shall sell or expose to sale any copy of such map or other article, as aforesaid, he shall forfeit to the said proprietor all the plates on which the same shall be copied, and every sheet thereof, either copied or printed, and shall further forfeit one dollar for every sheet of the same found in his possession, either printing, printed, copied, published, imported, or exposed for sale; and in case of a painting, statue, or statuary, he shall forfeit ten dollars for every copy of the same in his possession, or which have by him been sold or exposed for sale; one moiety thereof to the proprietor and the other to the use of the United States, to be recovered by action in any court of competent jurisdiction.

SEC. 101. And be it further enacted, That any person publicly performing or representing any dramatic composition for which a copyright has been obtained, without the consent of the proprietor thereof, or his heirs or assigns, shall be liable for damages therefor, to be recovered by action in any court of competent jurisdiction; said damages in all cases to be assessed at such sum, not less than one hundred dollars for the first, and fifty dollars for every subsequent performance, as to the court shall appear to be just.

SEC. 102. And be it further enacted, That any person who shall print or publish any manuscript whatever, without the consent of the author or proprietor first obtained, (if such author or proprietor be a citizen of the United States, or resident therein,) shall be liable to said author or proprietor for all damages occasioned by such injury, to be recovered by action on the case in any court of competent jurisdiction.

SEC. 103. And be it further enacted, That nothing herein contained shall be construed to prohibit the printing, publishing, importation, or sale of any book, map, chart, dramatic or musical composition, print, cut, engraving, or photograph, written, composed, or made by any person not a citizen of the United States nor resident therein.

SEC. 104. And be it further enacted, That no action shall be maintained in any case of forfeiture or penalty under the copyright laws, unless the same is commenced within two years after the cause of action has arisen.

SEC. 105. And be it further enacted, That in all actions arising under the laws respecting copyrights the defendant may plead the general issue, and give the special matter in evidence.

SEC. 106. And be it further enacted, That all actions, suits, controversies, and cases arising under the copyright laws of the United States shall be originally cognizable, as well in equity as at law, whether civil or penal in their nature, by the circuit courts of the United States, or any district court having the jurisdiction of a circuit court, or in the supreme court of the District of Columbia, or any Territory. And the court shall have power, upon bill in equity, filed by any party aggrieved, to grant injunctions to prevent the violation of any right secured by said laws, according to the course and principles of courts of equity, on such terms as the court may deem reasonable.

SEC. 107. And be it further enacted, That a writ of error or appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States shall lie from all judgments and decrees of any court, in any action, suit, controversy, or case touching copyrights in the same manner and under the same circumstances as in other judgments and decrees of such courts, without regard to the sum or value in controversy.

SEC. 108. And be it further enacted, That in all recoveries under the copyright laws, either for damages, forfeitures, or penalties, full costs shall be allowed thereon.

SEC. 109. And be it further enacted, That all books, maps, charts, and other publications of every nature whatever, heretofore deposited in the Department of the Interior, according to the laws regulating copyrights, together with all the records of said Department, and all records concerning the same which were removed by the Department of the Interior from the Department of State, shall be removed to and be under the control of the Librarian of Congress, who is hereby charged with all the duties pertaining to copyrights required by law.

SEC. 110. And be it further enacted, That the clerk of each of the district courts of the United States shall transmit forthwith to the Librarian of Congress all books, maps, prints, photograp[h]s, music, and other publications of every nature whatever, deposited in the said clerk's office, and not heretofore sent to the Department of the Interior, at Washington, together with all records of copyright in his possession, including the titles so recorded, and the dates of record: Provided, That where there are duplicate copies of legal, scientific, or mechanical works, one copy of each may be deposited in the library of the Patent Office, for which a receipt shall be given by the Commissioner of Patents to the Librarian of Congress.

SEC. 111. And be it further enacted, That the acts and parts of acts set forth in the schedule of acts cited, hereto annexed, are hereby repealed, without reviving any acts or parts of acts repealed by any of said acts, or by any clause or provisions therein: Provided, however, That the repeal hereby enacted shall not affect, impair, or take away any right existing under any of said laws; but all actions and causes of action, both in law and in equity, which have arisen under any of said laws, may be commenced and prosecuted, and if already commenced may be prosecuted to final judgment and execution, in the same manner as though this act had not been passed, excepting that the remedial provisions of this act shall be applicable to all suits and proceedings hereafter commenced: And provided also, That all applications for patents pending at the time of the passage of this act, in cases where the duty has been paid, shall be proceeded with and acted on in the same manner as though filed after the passage thereof: And provided further, That all offences which are defined and punishable under any of said acts, and all penalties and forfeitures created thereby, and incurred before this act takes effect, may be prosecuted, sued for, and recovered, and such offences punished according to the provisions of said acts, which are continued in force for such purpose.

The Revision of 1870 incorporated the following, which were earlier amendments to the Revision of 1831:

  1. Copyright protection extends to photographs (first implemented in 1865).
  2. Two copies of the work to be copyrighted must now be sent in instead of one (first implemented in 1846).

Differences between this act and the Revision of 1831 include:

  1. Translations of books cannot now be made without first obtaining permission from the author.
  2. The prohibition against reprinting a portion of a book without permission was removed.

At this point:

  1. U.S. Copyright Law still explicitly excludes from protection books and pictures written or made or engraved outside the U.S. by non-U.S. citizens.
  2. Only derivative works that utilize a variation of the original design and that are made with an intent to evade the law are prohibited.
  3. Since that prohibition doesn't include books, it is absolutely certain that the inclusion by another of only some wording, or the publishing of adaptations was considered entirely ethical and legal.
  4. Those seeking protection for their works are still required to follow certain stipulated procedures.
  5. The copyright term is still 28 years plus a possible renewal of 14 years.
  6. The statute of limitations is two years.

The above page was found at https://www.TruthOrFables.net/copyright_law_us_1870.htm on April 14, 2024.

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