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The International Copyright Act — Amendments to the 1870 Copyright Act

Enacted by the Fifty-first Congress on March 3, 1891

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 amend title sixty, chapter three, of the Revised Statutes of the United States, relating to copyrights.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That section forty-nine hundred and fifty-two of the Revised Statutes be, and the same is hereby, amended so as to read as follows:

"SEC. 4952. 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 the executors, administrators, or assigns of any such person shall, upon complying with the provisions of this chapter, 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 or their assigns shall have exclusive right to dramatize and translate any of their works for which copyright shall have been obtained under the laws of the United States."

SEC. 2. That section forty-nine hundred and fifty-four of the Revised Statutes be, and the same is hereby, amended so as to read as follows:

"SEC. 4954. The author, inventor, or designer, if he be still living, 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 persons 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. 3. That section forty-nine hundred and fifty-six of the Revised Statutes of the United States be, and the same is hereby, amended so that it shall read as follows:

"SEC. 4956. No person shall be entitled to a copyright unless he shall, on or before the day of publication in this or any foreign country, deliver at the office of the Librarian of Congress, or deposit in the mail within the United States, addressed to the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, District of Columbia, a printed copy of the title of the book, map, chart, dramatic or musical composition, engraving, cut, print, photograph, or chromo, or a description of the painting, drawing, statue, statuary, or a model or design for a work of the fine arts for which he desires a copyright, nor unless he shall also, not later than the day of the publication thereof in this or any foreign country, deliver at the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, District of Columbia, or deposit in the mail within the United States, addressed to the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, District of Columbia, two copies of such copyright book, map, chart, dramatic or musical composition, engraving, chromo, cut, print, or photograph, or in case of a painting, drawing, statue, statuary, model, or design for a work of the fine arts, a photograph of the same: Provided, That in the case of a book, photograph, chromo, or lithograph, the two copies of the same required to be delivered or deposited as above shall be printed from type set within the limits of the United States, or from plates made therefrom, or from negatives, or drawings on stone made within the limits of the United States, or from transfers made therefrom. During the existence of such copyright the importation into the United States of any book, chromo, lithograph, or photograph, so copyrighted, or any edition or editions thereof, or any plates of the same not made from type set, negatives, or drawings on stone made within the limits of the United States, shall be, and it is hereby, prohibited, except in the cases specified in paragraphs five hundred and twelve to five hundred and sixteen, inclusive, in section two of the act entitled 'An act to reduce the revenue and equalize the duties on imports, and for other purposes,' approved October first, eighteen hundred and ninety, and except in the case of persons purchasing for use and not for sale, who import subject to the duty thereon, not more than two copies of such book at any one time; and except in the case of newspapers and magazines, not containing in whole or in part matter copyrighted under the provisions of this act, unauthorized by the author, which are hereby exempted from prohibition of importation: Provided, nevertheless, That in the case of books in foreign languages, of which only translations in English are copyrighted the prohibition of importation shall apply only to the translation of the same, and the importation of the books in the original language shall be permitted."

SEC. 4. That section forty-nine hundred and fifty-eight of the Revised Statutes be, and the same is hereby, amended so that it will read as follows:

"SEC. 4958. The Librarian of Congress shall receive from the persons to whom the services designated are rendered the following fees:

"First. For recording the title or description of any copyright book or other article, fifty cents.

"Second. For every copy under seal of such record actually given to the person claiming the copyright, or his assigns, fifty cents.

"Third. For recording and certifying any instrument of writing for the assignment of a copyright, one dollar.

"Fourth. For every copy of an assignment, one dollar.

"All fees so received shall be paid into the Treasury of the United States: Provided, That the charge for recording the title or description of any article entered for copyright, the production of a person not a citizen or resident of the United States, shall be one dollar, to be paid as above into the Treasury of the United States, to defray the expenses of lists of copyrighted articles as hereinafter provided for.

"And it is hereby made the duty of the Librarian of Congress to furnish to the Secretary of the Treasury copies of the entries of titles of all books and other articles wherein the copyright has been completed by the deposit of two copies of such book printed from type set within the limits of the United States, in accordance with the provisions of this act and by the deposit of two copies of such other article made or produced in the United States; and the Secretary of the Treasury is hereby directed to prepare and print, at intervals of not more than a week, catalogues of such title-entries for distribution to the collectors of customs of the United States and to the postmasters of all post-offices receiving foreign mails, and such weekly lists, as they are issued, shall be furnished to all parties desiring them, at a sum not exceeding five dollars per annum; and the Secretary and the Postmaster-General are hereby empowered and required to make and enforce such rules and regulations as shall prevent the importation into the United States, except upon the conditions above specified, of all articles prohibited by this act."

SEC. 5. That section forty-nine hundred and fifty-nine of the Revised Statutes be, and the same is hereby, amended so as to read as follows:

"SEC. 4959. The proprietor of every copyright book or other article shall deliver at the office of the Librarian of Congress, or deposit in the mail, addressed to the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, District of Columbia, a copy of every subsequent edition wherein any substantial changes shall be made: Provided, however, That the alterations, revisions, and additions made to books by foreign authors, heretofore published, of which new editions shall appear subsequently to the taking effect of this act, shall be held and deemed capable of being copyrighted as above provided for in this act, unless they form a part of the series in course of publication at the time this act shall take effect."

SEC. 6. That section forty-nine hundred and sixty-three of the Revised Statutes be, and the same is hereby, amended so as to read as follows:

"SEC. 4963. Every person who shall insert or impress such notice, or words of the same purport, in or upon any book, map, chart, dramatic, or musical composition, print, cut, engraving, or photograph, or other article, for which he has not obtained a copyright, shall be liable to a penalty of one hundred dollars, recoverable one-half for the person who shall sue for such penalty and one-half to the use of the United States."

SEC. 7. That section forty-nine hundred and sixty-four of the Revised Statutes be, and the same is hereby, amended so as to read as follows:

"SEC. 4964. Every person, who after the recording of the title of any book and the depositing of two copies of such book, as provided by this act, shall, contrary to the provisions of this act, 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, dramatize, translate, or import, or knowing the same to be so printed, published, dramatized, translated, or imported, shall sell or expose to sale any copy of such book, shall forfeit every copy thereof to such 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. 8. That section forty-nine hundred and sixty-five of the Revised Statutes be, and the same is hereby, so amended as to read as follows:

"SEC. 4965. If any person, after the recording of the title of any map, chart, dramatic or musical composition, print, cut, engraving, or photograph, or chromo, or of the description of any painting, drawing, statute, statuary, or model or design intended to be perfected and executed as a work of the fine arts, as provided by this act, shall within the term limited, contrary to the provisions of this act, 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, dramatize, translate, 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, dramatized, translated, or imported, shall sell or expose to sale any copy of such map or other article as aforesaid, he shall forfeit to the 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 by him sold or exposed for sale; one-half thereof to the proprietor and the other half to the use of the United States."

SEC. 9. That section forty-nine hundred and sixty-seven of the Revised Statutes be, and the same is hereby, amended so as to read as follows:

"SEC. 4967. Every person who shall print or publish any manuscript whatever without the consent of the author or proprietor first obtained, shall be liable to the author or proprietor for all damages occasioned by such injury."

SEC. 10. That section forty-nine hundred and seventy-one of the Revised Statutes be, and the same is hereby, repealed.

SEC. 11. That for the purpose of this act each volume of a book in two or more volumes, when such volumes are published separately and the first one shall not have been issued before this act shall take effect, and each number of a periodical shall be considered an independent publication, subject to the form of copyrighting as above.

SEC. 12. That this act shall go into effect on the first day of July, anno Domini eighteen hundred and ninety-one.

SEC. 13. That this act shall only apply to a citizen or subject of a foreign state or nation when such foreign state or nation permits to citizens of the United States of America the benefit of copyright on substantially the same basis as [to] its own citizens; or when such foreign state or nation is a party to an international agreement which provides for reciprocity in the granting of copyright, by the terms of which agreement the United States of America may, at its pleasure, become a party to such agreement. The existence of either of the conditions aforesaid shall be determined by the President of the United States by proclamation made from time to time as the purposes of this act may require.

This act introduced the following changes into U.S. Copyright Law:

  1. Foreign authors now have copyright protection under certain conditions.
  2. Their country must offer the same sort of protection to U.S. authors.
  3. All copyrighted foreign books sold in the U.S. must be printed from type set or plates made in the U.S.
  4. Additionally, two such printed books had to be either delivered or sent to the Library of Congress, but no later than the day of publication in the U.S. or abroad.

That last stipulation would be difficult for foreign authors to comply with. Essentially, it says that all foreign works must first be both printed and published in the U.S.

At this point:

  1. U.S. Copyright Law still does not prohibit derivative works of books, except for translations. Thus, the inclusion by another of only some wording, or the publishing of adaptations was entirely ethical and legal.
  2. Those seeking protection for their works must follow certain stipulated procedures.
  3. The copyright term is still 28 years plus a possible renewal of 14 years.
  4. The statute of limitations is but two years.

The above page was found at https://www.TruthOrFables.net/copyright_law_us_1891.htm on July 19, 2024.

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