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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30

Copyright Laws Very Defective in England

page 94

Copyright Laws Very Defective in England.

It is to be regretted that the present deplorable state of short-hand in England is very largely due to the shamefully defective state of the law regarding copyright. "A point which has not been touched on in connection with this topic, however, is this—that owing to the unsettled state of the law of copyright at present in our country, any man with an invention of a new system of short-hand would be slow to divulge it. It might be very difficult for such a person, even after publication, to establish his claim, at least to secure his profit in the invention. In that way, what has been above suggested as to the establishment of a university board for the consideration of the subject would be found, perhaps, to be highly serviceable "(Anderson, page 241). The grave imperfections attaching to Copyright and Patent Laws account for the backward condition of ten thousand things, short-hand among them. If these two laws were only sufficiently improved, many evils which are now most absurdly supposed to be beyond the pale of patents, such as the prevention of famines, of droughts, and of many other calamities, might either be mitigated or removed. But as long as the Patent and Copyright Laws are what they are—costly and incapable of affording protection—inventors and authors, in large numbers, will continue to withhold valuable secrets from the public. The greatest glory shed on the present Gladstonian administration of England is the honour it has gained of having very materially reformed and improved, under Mr. Chamberlain's skilful pilotage, the late iniquitous patent laws of England.

I confess that the system of short-hand now described has never been put to the test of experiment. But what is perfect in theory is very likely to be perfect in practice also. The 47th proposition of the First Book of Euclid has been, for many centuries, accepted as correct, without probably having been once proved experimentally. To prove it experimentally it would be necessary to cut out a square equal to the square of the hypothenuse, and squares equal to the squares of the sides containing the right angle. And then it would be necessary to cut the two smaller squares into such portions, as that, being placed on the large square, they would be seen to cover it exactly. This has probably never yet been done. Yet no one doubts the truth of the 47th proposition of the First Book of Euclid. Valuable secrets have probably been lost to mankind from their possessors being unable to affirm that what they had proved page 95 correct in theory had been also repeatedly proved correct by experiment. Theoretically my system, though a perfect one, is also a very expensive one. But whatever its defects may be, as it seems to have some advantages, it is advisable that it should be published. The electric light was discovered a century before it was put to any practical use. The invention of the balloon has not, even yet, been put to any practical use, though it has been known for about a century. But although these two inventions have lain so long useless, is that any reason why their first discoverers and publishers should be deemed fools? Certainly not. So this discovery of mine may be proved utterly impracticable. Or it may lie useless for a long time. But inasmuch as there is some probability that it will, sooner or later, be found useful, it ought to be published. And its very defects, if it has any, may suggest to other and more intelligent inventors a method of short-hand that will really be the boon which men long for. Its expensiveness will probably prove on trial to be more imaginary than real. The best railways in the world are the most expensive. The underground railways of London are the greatest triumphs of engineering skill in the railway line. Yet they cost a million pounds per mile. Had any man in the year 1830 gravely affirmed that some London railways would in 1880 cost one million pounds sterling per mile, he should certainly have been deemed a lunatic and should have been perhaps treated as such.

By the system of short-hand which I have now described, I believe it will be possible to report what is not even now attempted—viz., the gestures of an orator.

In the following speech, which is a kind of epitome of the whole of this "Bitter Bitter Cry of Outcast Inventors," enough is said in the way of describing the gestures of the speaker to show what I mean.