International Copyright Act of 1891

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Copyright- all rights reserved

Purpose of the Act[edit]

The International Copyright Act of 1891 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 Island.

The International Copyright Act of 1891 was created because many people shunned the idea of literary piracy. It was the first U.S. congressional act that offered copyright protection in the United States to citizens of countries other than the United States. The act extended limited protection to foreign copyright holders from select nations. It was also important for American creators since they were more likely to have international copyright protection in countries that were offered the same protection by the United States. The Act empowered the President to extend copyright to works of foreign nationals.

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 British author Henry Arthur Jones, was registered under the act.


The protection of foreign works[edit]

During the time when the United States was just beginning to develop a literary tradition of its own, this nation refused to protect foreign works. As a result of this, American works were unprotected abroad and domestic publishers had to compete with each other for cheap editions of foreign works. Prior to the International Copyright Act, the first national copyright law was passed in 1790 and provided a copyright protection for 14 years, but only for authors who were citizens or residents of the United States. In order to get copyright protection in the rest of the world American authors were required 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. It was not until the 1830s that the pressure to extend American copyright to foreign authors first developed. Both American and British authors and publishers joined forces and pushed for a bilateral treaty between the United States and England. Famous authors such as Charles Dickens came to the United States to show their support for international copyright. Their biggest problem were American printers that already were protected by a high tariff on imported works, and who had no wish to pay royalties to English writers or publishers.

In the United States, the only authors protected were American. The great authors such as Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Edward Eggleston, and Bill Nye wrote letters in the mid-1880s to the Century requesting international copyright. These powerful letters to the journals had a strong effect on this issue as well as the American Copyright League that was formed in 1883. The League was a great supporter for an International Copyright Act and at the Madison Square Theater in 1885 the League sponsored readings by American authors in aid of the Leagues cause.

"National treatment"[edit]

While the United States was refusing any protection for foreign literary works, more and more countries in Europe started adapting the principle of “national treatment”. This principle meant that each nation that signed the treaty was obligated to protect works produced by nationals of all other treaty members on the same terms that it protects its own nationals.

In 1884, academics, writers and diplomats met in Berne, Switzerland, to begin the work to form a multilateral copyright treaty. This was based on the principle of national treatment together with minimum standards so that a member country would be free to treat the copyrighted work of its own nationals however they chose to, but when it came to the works from other treaty members it would have to obey certain minimum standards. The treaty was signed in 1886 but the United States was not one of its founding members. American representatives had attended the Bern conference only as observers and it would take another 5 years until the United States took its first step to protect foreign works.

Effects of the Act[edit]

"The manufacturing clause"[edit]

Ever since the first national copyright law in 1790, the United States had required certain "statutory formalities" to acquire copyright protection. These formalities served as a test of an author’s intention to claim protection for his or her work. The International Copyright Act of 1891 now applied these formalities to foreign publishers as well, but added an extra requirement called the "Manufacturing Clause".

The Manufacturing Clause required that all copies of foreign literary works should be printed from type set in the United States if they were to have American protection. This was an obvious concession to American printers, since they might otherwise have opposed the Act. 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.

Provisions of the Act[edit]

The International Copyright Act of 1891 instituted important changes in copyright matters. One of the most extensive changes was that from the date the Act went into effect, all books were required to be manufactured in the United States in order to obtain American copyright. However, foreign authors had a better chance of protecting their works than before. This Act was the first step that the United States took towards an international copyright that could benefit foreign authors as well as domestic. Throughout time, the United States had been somewhat of a copyright outcast since they had not joined many international treaties or conventions. However, as the United States became a major exporter of copyrighted materials this changed. Even if there’s still no such thing as an “international copyright” that will automatically protect an author’s rights throughout the world, The International Copyright Act of 1891 was the first step to a number of international copyright treaties and conventions that the United States is now a part of (e.g. Berne Convention, Universal Copyright Convention, WIPO).

See also[edit]


  • Allingham, Philip V. The Victorian Web. “Nineteenth-Century British and American Copyright Law.”
  • 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).
  • Goldstein, Paul. American Literature. “Copyright's Highway: From Gutenberg to the Celestial Jukebox.”, revised edition, 2003, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0-8047-4748-2, p. 150-151.

External links[edit]