Thomas Babington Macaulay: Copyright is monopoly

“Let us look at this question like legislators, and after fairly balancing conveniences and inconveniences, pronounce between the existing law of copyright, and the law now proposed to us. The question of copyright, Sir, like most questions of civil prudence, is neither black nor white, but grey. The system of copyright has great advantages and great disadvantages; and it is our business to ascertain what these are, and then to make an arrangement under which the advantages may be as far as possible secured, and the disadvantages as far as possible excluded. ”

“Copyright is monopoly, and produces all the effects which the general voice of mankind attributes to monopoly…”
“And I may with equal safety challenge my honourable friend to find out any distinction between copyright and other privileges of the same kind any reason why a monopoly of books should produce an effect directly the reverse of that which was produced by the East India Company’s monopoly of tea (i.e. bad), or by Lord Essex’s monopoly of sweet wines (i.e. bad). Thus, then, stands the case. It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.”

“The principle of copyright is this. It is a tax on readers for the purpose of giving a bounty to writers. The tax is an exceedingly bad one; it is a tax on one of the most innocent and most salutary of human pleasures; and never let us forget, that a tax on innocent pleasures is a premium on vicious pleasures.”

  • Thomas Babington Macaulay 1841

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