Charles Dickens, in 1861, put a restraining order on the Eastern Province Herald colonial newspaper from reprinting portions of a literary work composed by applicant and protected by the English Copyright Act.
Case Information
This was a motion on behalf of Charles Dickens, of Gadshill House, Rochester, Kent, for a rule nisi calling upon the editor and proprietors of the Eastern Province Herald to shew cause why they should not be restrained from printing in that paper a certain work of fiction called Great Expectations, the copyright of which belonged to applicant. The publication of a portion of the work in the newspaper, dated March 5th, was proved, and the following declaration of applicant executed in London on June 11th, 1861: —
“I, Charles Dickens, declare that I am the sole author of a work of fiction called Great Expectations, now in course of publication in a weekly periodical, All the Year Round, and say that I am the sole proprietor of the copyright in the said work, and that the said work and also the said periodical have been duly entered in the register book of the Stationers’ Company, pursuant to Act 5, 6 Viet c. 45, entitled ‘An Act to amend the Law of Copyright.’ And I further say that I have not granted any licence nor given any consent to the publication of my said work either in England or elsewhere except in the said periodical. And I make this solemn declaration, &c., &c.”
A certified copy of the entry in the register of the Stationers’ Hall was put in, shewing the applicant’s copyright to Great Expectations and All the Year Round.
Act 5, 6 Viet. c. 45, § 15, is as follows —
“And be it enacted, that if any person shall, in any part of the British dominions, after the passing of this Act, print or cause to be printed, either for sale or exportation, any book in which there shall be subsisting copyright, without the consent in writing of the proprietor thereof, or shall import for sale or hire any such book so having been unlawfully printed from ports beyond the sea, or knowing such book to have been unlawfully printed or imported, shall sell, publish, or expose to sale or hire, or cause to be sold, published, or exported for sale or hire, or shall have in his possession for sale or hire, any such book so unlawfully printed or imported without such consent as aforesaid, such offender shall be liable to a special action on the case at the suit of the proprietor of such copyright, to be brought in any Court of record in that part of the British dominions in which the offence shall be committed. Provided always that in Scotland such offender shall be liable to an action in the Court of Session in Scotland, which shall and may be brought and prosecuted in the same manner in which any other action of damage to the like amount may be brought and prosecuted there.”
Porter, A.G., for the applicant, referred to the English law and to the Colonial law allowing the importation of foreign reprints of English copyright works (Act 4 of 1854). No Act of this Parliament can alter the provisions of the Imperial law.[Bell, J.: — Respondents may perhaps plead that they reprinted the work from an American edition.] Even although the tale had been reprinted by the Americans, that would not destroy the copyright so as to allow its publication in the Herald. It is, however, for respondents to shew that they printed from an American edition.
The Court granted a rule nisi.
A letter was put in from defendants’ attorneys stating they did not intend to oppose. The Court made the rule absolute, with costs.