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LEGAL (concluded).

  LICENSING I have spoken about in a previous chapter. Every play must be licensed before performance, and all additions and alterations to old plays must also be licensed. Of course, this is practically needed only in the case of important alterations.

  Registering is a very particular matter, and should be paid great attention to. At Stationers' Hall, just off Ludgate-hill, a book is kept for the registration of "the proprietorship" in the copyright of books and plays, and the assignment of such copyright ("copyright" here includes "stageright.") The proprietor of the copyright--that is, the author of the play or his assignee--can, at any time after the first performance of the play, enter his right in this book of registry, and such entry is prima facie proof of his proprietorship, but subject to be rebutted by evidence.

  The mode of entry is by stating the title of the play, the name and address of the author (yourself), the name and address of the proprietor (also yourself), unless you have sold the piece, in which case leave it to the purchaser to do all this, and the date and place of its first performance. For making this entry you must pay 5s.

  After having registered your proprietorship, you can, for another 5s., make another entry assigning your right to anybody you like--to your wife, for instance, if you are afraid of bankruptcy, or it is otherwise advisable that you should get rid of your ownership in the piece.

  This assignment by mere entry is quite as legal and binding as though it had been done by formal deed, and it saves the stamp.

  Indeed, "registration" is the one point where the law is really kind to authors. A simple entry in this registry book, a certified copy of which can be had for five shillings, is, as I have said, legal prima facie evidence of ownership, whether as author or assignee, and it rests upon the other side to prove that the entry is wrong.

  A wrongful entry will be ordered to be expunged from the book upon application to the Court by the rightful proprietor, and the person who has made the wrongful entry will be punished.

  You are not compelled to make this registration at all, and your not doing so will not damage your rights in any way. But you cannot sue until such registration has been made, so that the first thing your solicitor will do, upon being instructed by you to proceed against anyone for infringing your play, is to go to Stationers' Hall and see that you are duly registered as proprietor of the play. If it has not been done already he will do it then, and that will be quite sufficient.

  Titles are regarded as trade marks; you must not use another man's title, nor a "colourable imitation," of it, for the same class of work. The principle upon which the Court will act in the matter is that of preventing the public from being deceived as to what work is really being offered to them. You wouldnot be allowed just now to write a three-act comic opera, and call it Dorothy, because that would be a palpable attempt to trade upon the popularity of the Prince of Wales's piece. But you would be allowed (probably, not certainly) to call a melodrama or a one-act farce Dorothy, because there could be no pretence then that you were trying to make the public believe that your play was Mr. Cellier's.

  It would just depend upon the view the judge took of the matter; and it would save trouble and bother if you adopted some other title altogether.

  I hope it will be needless for me to caution you against writing anything immoral, or of a nature calculated to bring public institutions into contempt (please don't do this), or anything to injure or caricature public or private individuals. If you write anything of this kind the Lord Chamberlain will refuse to license it; or if it does by chance slip through his fingers at the time of reading, it will be prohibited afterwards (as the author of The Happy Land, in which Messrs. Righton, Fisher and Hill brought Mr. Gladstone and Messrs. Lowe and Ayrton into contempt, could tell you).

  The term for which your play is protected is during your lifetime and for seven years afterwards, or for forty-two years from the date of its first performance, whichever period may be the longer. After this, it is public property.

  "Stageright" in a play is a legal property, and can be assigned, or bequeathed, or, in fact, dealt with just as any other form of property may be.

  As regards international stageright, the question is a big one, but I propose to go into it only so far as English authors are affected.

  At the end of 1887 a new copyright convention came into operation as between England and certain foreign countries. It has not really altered matters very much in effect from what they were before; but it has done away with a good deal of harassing detail formerly necessary to be gone through, especially by foreign authors desiring to secure copyright with us.

  The countries included in the convention are France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Haïti, Liberia (wherever that may be), Tunis, and Switzerland. In those nine countries the English author can secure a limited stageright for his play, provided he publishes a translation of his play in such country or countries within ten years after its original production. If he allow the ten years to go by without doing this, his play is public property in those countries. The course of proceeding in each case will depend upon the laws and customs of the particular country, and can be carried out effectively only through some foreign agent. Practically speaking, this part of the matter is unimportant. English plays are rarely required abroad. The boot is on the other foot.

  Plays brought out in any of these countries can likewise be protected in England, and, as this affects the greater industry of adaptation, we must examine into the matter.

  The foreign author sells his British right to an Englishman It need not be to an Englishman. It need not be to anyone He, the foreign author, may carry the matter through himself. But I am, for the sake of example, taking the ordinary custom. The course that the English purchaser had then to follow used to be a most expensive and dangerous one, full of complicated formalities, the slightest bungling over any one of which would ruin the whole work. (The rights in Frou Frou were lost merely because Mr. Edwards' translation was not, in parts, a sufficiently literal one).

  Literal translations had to be made and published within given periods, copies lodged at the public libraries, the work registered at Stationers' Hall, &c., &c., &c. All this is now needless, and it is only required that a translation or adaptation of the original foreign play be published in book form or produced at a theatre within ten years from the date of its original production abroad. If the ten years go by, and the piece is neither published nor produced then anyone is at liberty to use it.

  It is not necessary now (as formerly it was) that the foreign work should be registered in England before translation or adaptation. It is sufficient for the play to have been registered in the country of its origin, according to the laws and customs of that country.

  The purchaser's right to the foreign work only lasts for ten years, but, when it is once "adapted," the adaptation becomes a play of itself, subject to all the regulations and rights of an original work, and belongs to the adapter or his assignee for the usual term of seven years beyond the adapter's lifetime, or 42 years from the first performance, whichever period may be the longer.

  The Act finally proceeds to completely stultify itself by expressly stating that it only prohibits adaptations "with non-essential alterations, additions, or abridgments so made as not to confer the character of a new original work"; and it would thus appear to give the honest purchaser very little for his money, as what is the use of his purchasing the rights from the foreign author, and going to all the trouble and expense of registering, translating, &c., when, by making his adaptation a little freer than usual, and hacking it about sufficiently to enable him to argue that he had made "essential alterations, &c.," he could take it for nothing. But, if the Act is framed foolishly, the courts have decided to administer it wisely. In "Wood v. Chart" the judge stated very clearly that if the first and authorised adaptation had been in order, and he had been asked to prohibit the second and unauthorised adaptation on the ground of its being a "piratical translation," he would have done so; and there is no doubt that the legitimate proprietor of any adaptation would be upheld by the courts in preventing the performance of, to quote the judge's words, "anything like it--anything approaching it."

  With respect to all other foreign countries except the nine named we can steal from them and they can steal from us with impunity.

  Our copyright and stageright relationships with America are complicated and mysterious. I do not intend to examine into them, as that would be of no practical use. I shall content myself with merely stating the bare facts, as they at present exist, without troubling you with the reasons and explanations.

  How the question stands generally, may be judged by the following extract from "Morgan's Law of Literature" (an American authority):--"It appears, first, that an alien dramatic Author in the United States practically and in effect receives precisely the same protection in his literary property as the citizen can receive in his; and, secondly, that by neglecting to comply with our copyright laws the alien dramatic author can actually enjoy greater privileges of protection in his literary property than he could by complying with them."

  So long as you do not publish your play in book form, and sell copies, it cannot be played in America without your consent. One method of dealing with it over there is for you to sell your American rights to a citizen of the United States. Such sale is generally a mere formal matter, the purchaser being your agent, or the agent of the English purchaser out there, and the purchase money being merely nominal--one dollar or so. The piece is then played, and your fees collected and remitted to you by the agent. Of course, if you sell the piece for a sum down to some American manager that simplifies the case. The usual custom, however, is merely for an American manager to take the piece, and remit you the agreed royalties in just the same way as an English manager would.

  The American author is not so fortunate as his English brother. Any play produced first in America can be stolen and played in England, as poor Dion Boucicault has learned to his cost. To protect themselves from this robbery American authors now produce their plays through some hole-and-corner performance in England before producing them in America, as Young Mrs. Winthrop was produced at the Marylebone Theatre a few days before it was first played in America, and the English stageright thus secured to Mr. Bronson Howard.

  This method of acquiring the English stageright is in accordance with the provisions of our Dramatic Copyright Act, which gives to a foreign author the full British right for his play, provided it be first produced in this country.

  I think I have now explained to you pretty fully your legal rights, privileges, and protections as a dramatist. How to enforce and maintain those rights, privileges, and protections in a court of law--the steps necessary to recover your fees, to prevent unauthorised performance of your plays, to defeat infringement, to guard against piracy or theft--this I do not propose to tell you. It would necessitate a chapter much longer than the present one, and be of no practical use. You could not conduct the case yourself. You must put yourself in the hands of some solicitor who has made a special study of copyright cases (there are not too many lawyers who do thoroughly understand this work. You will do well to make a careful selection). He will know what to do, and will do it, and your knowing all about it, too (even if your unlegally trained mind could understand the process, which is doubtful) would be mere surplusage.

  All that it is needful for you to grasp with reference to the matter is (1) That if any person shall play any dramatic piece, or any part of it, without the consent in writing of the proprietor (or his agent), at any place of dramatic entertainment in Her Majesty's dominions, that person shall be liable to payment of various penalties and damages. (2) That every action for any offence or injury must be brought within twelve months after the offence is committed.

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