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Lot 124: George Bernard Shaw Typed Letter of Advice on Copyright, "and the Law of Libel"
Presidential Letters, Free Franks & Speeches: Washington to Bush + Important Autographs in History, Science & the Arts
26 October 2016
New York, NY, USALive Auction
Description: “If you adopt literature as a profession, the first thing you have to do is to acquaint yourself with the law of copyright and the law of libel” ********** SHAW, GEORGE BERNARD. (1856-1950). Irish playwright and critic known for numerous plays including The Devil’s Disciple and Pygmalion. TLS. (“G. Bernard Shaw”). 2/3p. 4to. London, April 19, 1937. On his personal stationery. To Henry Welsh, Esq. of London, an aspiring writer. ********** “I am afraid that what you contemplate is an act of simple piracy as far as it concerns the works of living authors or their heirs or assignees. As to works which are in the public domain through the expiration of the copyright you may not only quote them ad lib: you may publish them in toto. In the case of copyright works you have a right of reasonable treatise, you may quote for the purposes of argument the passage you criticize, or refer to and quote the writer as a scientific authority. What you must not do is to reproduce a copyright work, or any part of it, solely for the reader’s entertainment and your own profit. You might just as well steal his umbrella or pick his pocket. If you adopt literature as a profession, the first thing you have to do is to acquaint yourself with the law of copyright and the law of libel, and to bear in mind that as an author’s copyright is his means of livelihood his work must not be exploited commercially by anyone but himself or his licensee. It always seems ungracious and unnatural for an author to insist on his property rights and not live on air; but inside the profession it is a matter of etiquette to hold them very strictly and not make matters hard for the poorer writers (the vast majority) by allowing literary work to be used without payment. All this is for your instruction in the difficult business of authorship, and is quite impersonal…” ********** Shaw’s literary career began in earnest on April 21, 1894, when his Arms and the Man opened to great acclaim in London. His foremost international success, it represented “the true beginning of [his] recognition as a popular dramatist,” (Encyclopedia Britannica). Likened by some to Shakespeare, Shaw combined satire, comedy and social criticism into more than 50 plays. His famous stage works include Saint Joan, Man and Superman and Pygmalion, the inspiration for the popular Broadway musical and film My Fair Lady. He also continued to write on art, literature, music, and drama – most notably for The Saturday Review, which he joined in 1895. His wit and repartee won him, “incontestable eminence as the most effective British feuilletonist of his day… To the end, Shaw continued to publish brilliantly argued prefaces to his plays and to flood publishers with books, articles, and cantankerous letters to the editor,” (ibid.). ********** Shaw was famously the victim of piracy after the January 1896 publication in The Savoy magazine of his essay “On Going to Church,” in which he criticized the Catholic Church while proclaiming his personal faith. American publisher and founder of the Roycroft artisan community, Elbert Hubbard, wrote to Shaw asking permission to reprint the essay. “Shaw replied: ‘As the magazine is not, as far as I know, copyrighted in the United States, the articles in it are as much at your disposal as the sermons of Jeremy Taylor or the plays of Shakespeare. If my wish has any weight with you, you will either reprint the article word for word as it stands or else let it alone,’” (“The Quintessential G.B.S.: Social Views,” Selections from the Sidney P. Albert - George Bernard Shaw Collection at Brown University’s John Hay Library, library.brown.edu/exhibits/archive/shaw). However, Hubbard ignored the author’s wishes, changing the text and proclaiming it the “authorized edition.” An enraged Shaw called it a “garbled piracy” and expounded on his displeasure in “The Author’s View” in the January 1902 issue of Caxton Magazine, later reprinted as “Bernard Shaw on Modern Typography” by Horace Carr in 1915. ********** Folded into quarters with several small, insignificant stains; otherwise fine.