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The International Copyright Act is the first U.S. congressional act that extended limited protection to foreign copyright holders from select nations.

Formally known as the "International Copyright Act of 1891", but more commonly referred to as the "Chace Act" after Sen. Jonathan Chace of Rhode Islandmarker. The act (26 Stat. 1106) was passed on March 3, 1891, by the 51st Congress.

The Act went into effect on July 1, 1891. On July 3, 1891, the first foreign work, a play called Saints and Sinners by Britishmarker author Henry Arthur Jones, was registered under the act.

The International Copyright Act of 1891 was created because many people shunned the idea of literary piracy. In the United States of America, the only authors protected were American; the great authors such as Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Edward Eggleston, and Bill Nye wrote letters to the Century requesting international copyright. These letters were written in the mid 1880s.

Besides these powerful letters to the journals, the American Copyright League was organized in 1883. The League was a great supporter for an International Copyright Act, and on April 28 and 29, 1885 at the Madison Square Theater the league sponsored readings by American authors in aid of the Leagues cause.

Prior to the International Copyright Act, protection required American authors to gain residency in the country in which they desired copyright protection. For example Mark Twain obtained residency in Canada to protect his publication of The Prince and the Pauper. To protect foreign literature in the United States, British authors would have an American citizen serve as a collaborator in the publishing process, and then have the book registered in Washington, D.C. under the collaborator’s name.

When the International Copyright Act of 1891 was finally passed, foreign authors had to have their works in Washington, D.C. “on or before the day of publication in this or any foreign country.” This too would create a problem, but by the early 1900s British authors were granted American Copyright since it was published abroad thirty days from its deposit in Washington, D.C. This would then allow American publishers time to release an authorized edition.

See also


  • Bowden, Edwin T. American Literature. “Henry James and the Struggle for International Copyright: An Unnoticed Item in the James Bibliography.” v. 24, no. 4: 1953 p. 537(3).
  • Allingham, Philip V. The Victorian Web. “Nineteenth-Century British and American Copyright Law.”

External links

  • 2/19/2007.

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