Mark Twain: Copyright Maximalist Who Also Believed That Nearly All Human Utterances Were Plagiarism?

from the contradiction-or-satire? dept

In copyright circles, Mark Twain’s speech to Congress in 1906 is well known as being the point at which he made clear his desire that copyright should be vastly expanded to make sure his kids kept earning money:

My copyrights produce to me annually a good deal more money than I have any use for. But those children of mine have use for that. I can take care of myself as long as I live. I know half a dozen trades, and I can invent a half a dozen more. I can get along. But I like the fifty years’ extension, because that benefits my two daughter, who are not as competent to earn a living as I am, because I have carefully raised them as young ladies, who don’t know anything and can’t do anything. So I hope Congress will extend to them that charity which they have failed to get from me.

He later argues for infinite copyright:

The English idea of copyright, as I found, was different, when I was before the committee of the House of Lords, composed of seven members I should say. The spokesman was a very able man, Lord Thring, a man of great reputation, but he didn’t know anything about copyright and publishing. Naturally be didn’t, because he hadn’t been brought up to this trade. It is only people who have had intimate personal experience with the triumphs and griefs of an occupation who know how to treat it and get what is justly due.

Now that gentleman had no purpose or desire in the world to rob anybody or anything, but this was the proposition–fifty years extension–and he asked me what I thought the limit of copyright ought to be.

“Well,” I said, “perpetuity.” I thought it ought to last forever.

Some have argued, somewhat convincingly, that Twain as actually doing a somewhat brilliant satire, which not everyone understood. That would be awesome, if true, and there are some hints that it may very well be. However, it does appear that Twain himself was somewhat more conflicted on this particular issue. Siva Vaidhyanathan has an entire chapter (pdf) of his excellent book, Copyrights and Copyrwrongs, devoted to Twain’s fluctuating views on copyright. However, he does suggest that later on in life — from 1898 onward basically — Twain appeared to be a strong maximalist.

So it’s interesting to then discover, via Joe Betsill, that during that same period, Twain argued that “the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism” and that this wasn’t a bad thing. The specifics are that Twain was writing a letter to Helen Keller, who a decade earlier (at 12-years of age) had just gone through a controversy in which she was accused of plagiarizing heavily from another book for her own work, The Frost King. Twain wrote to Keller, with whom he was friendly, after learning about the plagiarism accusations:

Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that “plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul—let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men—but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite—that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.

Then why don’t we unwittingly reproduce the phrasing of a story, as well as the story itself? It can hardly happen—to the extent of fifty words except in the case of a child; its memory-tablet is not lumbered with impressions, and the actual language can have graving-room there, and preserve the language a year or two, but a grown person’s memory-tablet is a palimpsest, with hardly a bare space upon which to engrave a phrase. It must be a very rare thing that a whole page gets so sharply printed on a man’s mind, by a single reading, that it will stay long enough to turn up some time or other to be mistaken by him for his own. No doubt we are constantly littering our literature with disconnected sentences borrowed from books at some unremembered time and now imagined to be our own, but that is about the most we can do. In 1866 I read Dr. Holmes’s poems, in the Sandwich Islands. A year and a half later I stole his dedication, without knowing it, and used it to dedicate my “Innocents Abroad” with. Then years afterward I was talking with Dr. Holmes about it. He was not an ignorant ass—no, not he; he was not a collection of decayed human turnips, like your “Plagiarism Court;” and so when I said, “I know now where I stole it, but whom did you steal it from,” he said, “I don’t remember; I only know I stole it from somebody, because I have never originated anything altogether myself, nor met anyone who had.”

To think of those solemn donkeys breaking a little child’s heart with their ignorant rubbish about plagiarism! I couldn’t sleep for blaspheming about it last night. Why, their whole lives, their whole histories, all their learning, all their thoughts, all their opinions were one solid rock of plagiarism, and they didn’t know it and never suspected it. A gang of dull and hoary pirates piously setting themselves the task of disciplining and purifying a kitten that they think they’ve caught filching a chop! Oh, dam—

That was sent in 1903. Yet just three years later, he was arguing to Congress that ideas were property and should remain in the possession of those that created them forever:

So if I could have convinced that gentleman that a book which does consist solely of ideas, from the base to the summit, then that would have been the best argument in the world that it is property, like any other property, and should not be put under the ban of any restriction, but that it should be the property of that man and his heirs forever and ever, just as a butcher shop would be, or–I don’t care–anything, I don’t care what it is. It all has the same basis. The law should recognize the right of perpetuity in this and every other kind of property.

Now, plagiarism and copyright are not exact equivalents — though there can (and often is) significant overlap. But it’s difficult to see how the same person can reasonably argue both points. Perhaps that lends some credence to the claims that the Congressional hearing was, in fact, satire. Either way, I think I like the 1903 Mark Twain waxing poetically on how all ideas are plagiarism much more than the 1906 Mark Twain whining about how his children are too useless to do anything and need to keep making money from his books long after he’s dead.

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Comments on “Mark Twain: Copyright Maximalist Who Also Believed That Nearly All Human Utterances Were Plagiarism?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

But I like the fifty years’ extension, because that benefits my two daughter, who are not as competent to earn a living as I am, because I have carefully raised them as young ladies, who don’t know anything and can’t do anything.

If that’s not satire, I don’t know what is. Does anyone think he would literally stand before Congress and, in all seriousness, speak about his daughters like that?

Anonymous Coward says:

How cute. Funny how you split him in two. You celebrate someone when it suits your own agenda and categorically dismiss them otherwise. Yes, even dead geniuses can be fashioned into “whining” artists on this site–then you are aghast when people note that you aren’t being fully respectful to both sides of the piracy issue.

Keep it classy, my man.

illuminaut (profile) says:

It makes sense

When principles and your own selfish interests collide, few people stand by the former. Which is why the people arguing in favor of copyright are the ones who stand to gain from it. All the hogwash by maximalists about how strengthening copyright would somehow benefit society is akin to billionaires preaching the benefits of a trickle down economy. It’s refreshing that Twain at least doesn’t pretend his stance would be based on anything other than a sense of entitlement.

scichotic (profile) says:

Thanks for linking to that recollection by Twain of his testimony. Whether it’s satire or not, I got the impression that he firmly believed there should be no limit on copyright, and his argument actually made a lot of sense… and of course, it was a great read.

Why you, Mr. Masnick, think there’s some contradiction in his two very different lines of thinking — one on plagiarism and one on copyright — is beyond me. And how you could categorize his very excellent reasoning as whining is also beyond me. The clarity of it, when compared with most political arguments, is very refreshing to me.

So, why not remove the limitation on copyright, as he suggests? Or, perhaps, limit it to the life of the blood-line, until no heir to the throne comes forth, as it were? What would be the down side, other than that those media corporations which you, Mr. Masnick, are always complaining about, would not have any right to profiteer off work that is not their own?

Anonymous Coward says:


To be honest, I think a lot of content creators are conflicted. It’s easy to want to extend control until it becomes absolute (“infinite” in Twain’s terms) because there’s always a jealous part of ourselves that wants to be able to dictate how our work is used. But we also know how the creative process and the distribution process work. If Shakespeare were still under copyright, it would have dramatically reduced his prominence, because every reprint, every performance, every reworking (“West Side Story” et al) would have had to pay substantial royalties to the heirs of a man dead for hundreds of years. The fact that they don’t has helped his popularity stand the test of time (and wallets).

Mickey Mouse is less central to the lives of kids today than he was when I was young. In 50 years, will he still be relevant at all? Or will he have collapsed under the weight of all the characters who get free advertising through the internet equivalent of word of mouth?

We as creators will always have to wrestle our internal demons of desire for control, but we don’t have to let greedy corporations sit like the devil on our shoulders, telling us to make unrealistic choices and alienate our fanbases.

Killercool (profile) says:


My god. You’re right! I’ve never seen such a thing before! It’s like, for some reason, a single person can do or say things at one point in time that are positive, and then later do something that is negative or dumb! Well, we should all just judge a person based on one of those things, and not on what they do or say at other points in their lives, as well.

Because judging them based on ALL of their actions, and not just the ones that paint them in the light we prefer?

THAT is unforgivable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course Twain knew that everything is plagiarism. He just wanted to protect his daughters, whether it agreed with his personal view or not. Just as very few “pro-life” fathers would tell their daughters to die, rather than have an abortion. There are times in life where reality is more important than ideology. (Most of the time, actually.)

Greevar (profile) says:


Once you realize that you never can and never will have any control over anything you publish, it all gets very simple. You change your methods something you can control. I like the serman given by Phillip Seymore Hoffman in the movie Doubt. In the serman the priest tells the gossiping woman to tear open a pillow from on top of her roof and scatter the feathers to the wind. Then he tells her a day later to go recollect the feathers. When she says she can’t, he says this is how gossip works. That is also how publishing works. You put it out there and it’s laid bare to all to do with as they will, whether you want them to or not. When you realize that you’re trying to put the feathers back in the pillow, you know that it’s impossible. If more creators would realize this, they would know how futile and backwards it is to hold on to copyright.

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:


Clemens was THE master of satire. You can hear his tongue wedged firmly in cheek in these utterances. His disdain for politicians was so well known and thorough that ANYTHING he said to them had to be taken verbatim, and then reversed! He knew without doubt that the politicians before whom he was testifying, were for the most part totally corrupt, and would do whatever they wanted, his utterances notwithstanding. In such a case, why bother to be serious?

Trenchman says:


The reason why he can link the two lines of thinking is because they are in fact linked. The entire idea of copyright is to protect your original work, but if all work is plagiarism, than there is no such thing as an original work to copyright.

So, the fact is that he wants to be compensated for his original work that he also admits is just an amalgam of other peoples work which he plagiarized. The argument doesn’t really make sense.

I just wish people would treat copyright law as it should be. Not as some right to benefit from every copy made from a piece of work you did, meaning that he is getting money from every book that sells, when his actual work was in writing only one, but as a privilege given to them by the government to help them temporarily earn money for their creative works helping to give individuals more incentive to create, and ultimately, to give the public more to learn from.

Anonymous Coward says:


Because you fool Mark Twain was holding 2 points of view that contradict themselves. For one he acknowledges that there is nothing under the sun that is original on the other he argues that since if someone created something they should own it for eternity, but how that is possible if nobody ever created nothing new except adding bits and pieces to what others did?
More problematic is the case for ideas, you can’t own them forever, that implies that others who have the same idea and got there by themselves have no rights to what they thought, you are depriving further generations of their own benefits and that is not human, normal, moral or sensible in anyway, that is why Mr. Masnick correctly pointed out Mark Twain’s double speak, he knew that he could not create anything without having stole from others a thousand times and still had the gal to go in front of congress and lobby for perpetuity for a granted monopoly, the man clearly was cognitive dissonant to say the least, giving him the benefit of the doubt because the alternative is that he knew what he was asking and he didn’t care which makes him a douche.

Anonymous Coward says:


Here is a thing to think about it.

Indians invented hospitals, dentistry, the zero, plastic surgery and a lot of other things, how do you think other countries would feel to have to pay royalties for the use of those inventions?

Oh that is right nobody would do it.

Mark Twain was obviously a sad man, for whatever reasons he had probably because in the US nobody cared about copyrights at the time and they stole everything, which is why there is a publishing industry in this country to begin with otherwise Americans probably have British publishers in power today.

Ophelia Millais says:


The similarity to Colbert’s 2010 appearance before Congress was my thought, as well. Clearly the 1906 testimony was a tongue-in-cheek performance by the Mark Twain character. I think Masnick is attempting some satire of his own, here, absurdly characterizing Twain as a possible copyright maximalist, knowing full well (and demonstrating with some humorous quotes) that the esteemed literary figure was unlikely to hold such extreme views.

ottermaton says:


I have to say I LOVE the way he uses the term ‘pirate’ but uses it in the opposite way it’s normally used today:

To think of those solemn donkeys breaking a little child’s heart with their ignorant rubbish about plagiarism! I couldn’t sleep for blaspheming about it last night. Why, their whole lives, their whole histories, all their learning, all their thoughts, all their opinions were one solid rock of plagiarism, and they didn’t know it and never suspected it. A gang of dull and hoary pirates piously setting themselves the task of disciplining and purifying a kitten that they think they’ve caught filching a chop! Oh, dam?

I think I’ll call IP maximalists “hoary pirates” from now on. 😉

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Of course he can

But it’s difficult to see how the same person can reasonably argue both points.

Easily. He was an intelligent man and the obviousness of the truth of incremental accomplishment is something he could not have failed to see and so in talking to a friend he would speak the truth. On the other hand, who’s going to stand up in front of lawmakers and say, “Yes, please reduce the term for which I and my family can charge rent on work that I did 20 years ago”?
Self interest is a powerful motivation, which is why an “independent” judge and jury and not victims of crime get to decide on guilt and set the punishment. There is always a problem when the people with the most direct interest get to set the boundaries. Objectivity in law is dying a sad, painful and drawn out death in most western democracies.

Anonymous Coward says:

It makes sense

Exactly. This sort of contradiction exists in everybody. There is a huge difference between the morals we believe we have and out actual actions. I think the speech to congress was how he really felt about copyright but he phrased it in such a way as to show that he understood how incredibly selfish it was.

Anonymous Coward says:

Twain’s problem with copyright was more a sign of the times than anything (along with the satirical side of this discussion, that is…)

Twain knew that as soon as his work went to public domain the publishers were going to be making money off of his book, since the no longer had to ask permission or even send royalties.

they were the criminals in his mind, the leeches as it were.

PatM (profile) says:


That is preciously correct when it comes to gossip. In light of anything one creates, the mere fact that the creator (or other entity of the creation) claims to be the first to do so, and does well enough so that the public, or even a small fraction of it, has recognized the creator(s) to be the first, should be well enough to whet the soul of the creator(s). I don’t think any creator(s) can argue against that fact. What they can and do argue against is the blatant thief/copyist/infringer, however one may label them, who comes about claiming the creator(s) first as the their very own creations, and then has the gull to go about fighting tooth and nail to claim the rights to such works, and/or, as we are seeing so much of now, the rights to share the works of others in a public manner without due credit, whether it be in payment/royalties, to the first.
Life has always been a double edge sword of which we stab or prick ourselves with daily.

Anonymous Coward says:

It makes sense

Quite the contrary. MT’s comments were presented in elegant prose, the substance of which was directed at Congress itself and its belief that it was “giving” authors a really excellent and valuable benefit by a modest extension to then existing copyright duration.

In today’s vernacular, stripped of its elegance, he was telling Congress “Thank you so very much for deigning to provide me a bit more time associated with all of my literary works, you arrogant arses. Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t you set limited timeframes for the ownership of everything else that does not comprise literary works? If what you are doing is a grand idea for what I do, why not apply it as well across the board?”

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

It makes sense

Exactly. ‘if you arses are going to extend copyright by 50 years why not make it perpetucal? After all it’s a form of property which makes it so useful. While you’re at it keep the lease-hold on the butcher shop perpetual whether or not the butcher is behind on his rent or the free-hold landowner is behind on his mortgage! Property is perpetual, you idiots!’

Charles Dickens had little use for copyright extremism in the United States. As far as he was concerned, in modern parlance, the entire American publishing industry were pirates because they didn’t respect his copyrights on books which sold by the shipload in the States and which he didn’t make a dime from.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


He just wanted to protect his daughters

It was clearly satire, not a sincere desire to “protect his daughters”. If taking care of his daughters was his chief concern, he would have protected them by giving them the necessary tools, skills, and even money himself instead of leaving them so bereft of these things that they need a kind of welfare to survive.

Oh, but wait, one daughter, Clara, was a successful concert singer. Another, Susy, was a successful actress, and the third suffered from epilepsy, was cared for by the family, and died at the age of 29.

So none of them needed perpetual royalties to “protect them”.

Anonymous Coward says:

It makes sense

Foreign works were generally not subject to US law if they were:

Sec.5 And be it further enacted, That nothing in this act shall be construed to extend to prohibit the importation or vending, Reprinting or publishing within the United States, of any map, chart, book or books, written, printed, or published by any person not a citizen of the
United States, in foreign parts or places without the jurisdiction of the United States.

Copyright was available for persons who were not citizens of the United States if the above conditions were met.

What many may not realize is that in many cases US publishers did remit monies to the authors of works that were not secured under US law. While they may have had the right to publish and distribute with impunity, many chose not to rely upon the letter of the law to “screw” the foreign authors.

Anonymous Coward says:


I’m not so sure this is satire.
For one the morals and customs of the day were completely different, women had no rights at the time, they were not viewed as working people, they didn’t need a job they needed to be ladies and that is what he said there.

Those were different times I there is a very good chance that this is not a joke or satire, it looks ridiculous because today we think different about things but in those days those words would not be seen as funny.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:


Though, in an alleged discussion with Charles Dickens, he defended the practice of the US publishing industry of not respecting Dickens’ copyrights. (As some hypocritical copyright maximalists posting here do as well.) Dickens, for his part, pointed out that England respected US copyright and left it at that.

Dickens went to his grave considering the US publishing industry nothing more than what the American (and other) publishing industry today would call pirates. On the other side of that equation is the reality that Dickens made a tidy sum of money touring the United States as did many other British authors of the period. More than he’d ever have made on his copyrights.

Clemens himself would make more from his tours and live appearances across North America and Europe that he’d make on his copyrights alone.

Twain was intelligent enough to know that the extension of copyright to 50 years that he’d made so much fun of was not what copyright was intended for but he’d take it if congress critters were corrupt enough to pass it. After all there were those uneducated and useless daughters of his to consider. In an era where educating girls was considered a waste because they were doomed to end up barefoot and pregnant, chained to the kitchen. And clearly cooking wasn’t a marketable skill.

It’s sad that Twain made the same arguments about “perpetual” copyright while satirizing them in Congressional testimony are used today to defend the notion that heirs to an author should profit on their ancestor’s talent alone, if possible. No need for creativity, talent or skill for them! Just the royalty cheques, please and thank you.

We’ve come such a long way, haven’t we? 😉

TtfnJohn (profile) says:


I agree that we can’t fully comprehend the morals and customs of the day regarding the role of women in society though the fact that we still have to talk about it, debate things like (all other things being equal) equal pay for what they do. That’s not happened yet. Or some degree of reproductive autonomy.

We haven’t changed all that much it turns out.

Reading for “tone of voice” from the quote I’d say he was still in full satire mode when he said it. After all it’s well known that he had no use for Congress and little more for his publishers.

Like today he could count on the majority of congress critters being so full of self-importance that they’d miss satire even if he unloaded with a full broadside of it.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

It makes sense

Many may have but Dickens wasn’t one of them. I suspect the majority of other writers in English didn’t either. There’s always the possibility that publishers who had operations in both England and the United States may have but it wasn’t as common a practice as you say if the complaints of writers who weren’t American citizens are anything to go by. All the way up to JRR Tolkein.

All I’m saying is that legal or not, and I’m aware that it was entirely legal, in today’s terms the American publishing industry of the time were pirates in the opinion of rights holders who were citizens of other countries.

Secondarily that having “found religion” concerning respecting international IP in the late 1960s, if memory serves, that the United States now wants to export the extremist views of the USCofC, Hollywood, American publishers and the likes of our good buddy Ronald J. Riley to to the rest of the planet is just a touch hypocritical.

Despite the fact that Dickens made more money touring the States than he did from his copyrights on books sold in the British Empire (most of those, outside the UK itself, in Canada, Australia and New Zealand) he hated what he felt US publishers were doing to him by not remitting. (Still Dickens did illustrate some of the axioms that Mike repeats here about competition outside of the mamma’s dress of IP law and make a good living at it.)

Other countries and artistic communities have long memories about things like who “pirated”, even legally, in the decades before the Internet. Particularly legally. People are funny that way.

Greg says:

Twain's Money Woes

It’s interesting to note that without Twain’s money problems, somewhat brought about by copyright infringement, but also brought about by pouring his money into a failed typographic machine, he would’ve never travelled the country (and Europe) giving income-generating speeches and lectures, cementing himself into the popular culture of the day and, indeed, become part of American cultural history.

Anonymous Coward says:

but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing?and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite?that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.

This seems to be a rather perfect summary of his feelings on the matter. Which leads me to believe that his speech was satirical or he believes that IP is the only way to make people modest about the things they create.

That last conclusion may be a side effect of the first one.

Anonymous Coward says:

It makes sense

You criticize the US for wanting to “export extremist views”. What you may not fully appreciate is that these “extremist views” were imported into the US when it signed on to the Berne Convention after about 90 years of sitting outside the international norms adopted at Berne. The importation was largely complete with the enactment of the Copyright Act of 1976, legislation necessary for Berne’s implementation domestically.

One obvious aspect of US copyright law that gives many “heartburn” is the DMCA, with likely most of them believing that the DMCA is original to the US. Actually, it is not. The issues addressed in the DMCA find their genesis in a pair of treaties associated with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). While there are strong, diverging opinions on many of the matters addressed in the DMCA, it is generally acknowledged that its “safe harbor” provisions were beneficial improvements and have found favor within the European Union. Interestingly, it is posited that the “anti-circumvention” provisions in the DMCA are less restrictive that what are the EU’s counterpart provisions.

Thus, when I see all this righteous indignation expressed by many in the internet crowd, especially within the EU, about the US being a copyright bully in the international arena, I have to wonder if any of them are even aware of where these provisions of copyright law originated. It seems somewhat farcical for the EU Parliment to whine about ACTA when it bears a significant amount of the responsiblity for having created them in the first place. Europe is rich with history, but apparently the recollection of legal history is not one of its strong suits.

One can pick all day at specific provisions of US law, but in my view what is proposed to be exported from the US is a body of legal principles that in substantial measure ameliorate some of the international excesses that were necessarily imported when the US finally agreed to join Berne.

Anonymous Coward says:

It makes sense

While that is all fun and games, the main complaint is the attempt to export the recent copyright maximalist garbage.

While they didn’t help by creating the fundamental groundwork, I don’t think they can be blamed for ‘causing’ it. The US is the one who decided that none of it was enough and more had to be done in all sectors of IP.

It’s arguable that asking for some basis of unified IP protection is akin to completely locking down the entire system. There is a middle ground that exists between full-on police-state copyright enforcement and total IP anarchy.

Anonymous Coward says:

It makes sense

Perhaps my comment was not altogether clear. The “import” was internationally defined. While here it was modified to eliminate certain perceived excesses, and to improve upon certain provisions (especially “safe harbors”).

To say that the US is now “exporting” is not really accurate. “Re-exporting” would be a more appropriate term.

Scott (profile) says:

Hellen Keller's handshake

Twain writes about a young Hellen Keller he met.

” The guests were brought one after another and introduced to her.
As she shook hands with each she took her hand away and laid her
fingers lightly against Miss Sullivan?s lips, who spoke against them
the person?s name. When a name was difficult, Miss Sullivan not only
spoke it against Helen?s fingers but spelled it upon Helen?s hand with
her own fingers ? stenographically, apparently for the swiftness of
the operation was suggestive of that.?

” After a couple of hours spent very pleasantly, some one asked if
Helen would remember the feel of the hands of the company after this
considerable interval of time, and be able to discriminate the hands
and name the possessors of them. Miss Sullivan said ?Oh she will have
no difficulty about that.? So the company filed past, shook hands in
turn, and with each handshake Helen greeted the owner of the hand
pleasantly and spoke the name that belonged to it without hesitation.”

Wouldn’t it be just dandy if our own works were as carefully questioned and examined as a handshake with Hellen Keller? Innocent plagiarism is protected by Word Neutrality. We agree everything we create has a sense of character that reflects on our entire life. We’re putting everything one may attribute to us into a single piece. I think Twain only wanted to keep a copyright cemented in stone as far as it made up his character, not his words. I think we need to stop thinking of copyright extensions as a bad thing. It’s patent extensions that we need to worry about. Patents don’t consider character, only facts. The fact remains though; just who copied from whom? This is what I like so much about the GNU Public License. Everything’s documented. Expand that paradigm into commit logs, then we have a highly detailed history of programming in general. If that’s the case, then we should have every tool to figure out just whom we have copied from.

For every handshake with Hellen Keller we have poetry and words. You can’t uncopyright that.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


For one the morals and customs of the day were completely different, women had no rights at the time, they were not viewed as working people, they didn’t need a job

Perhaps so, but in the case if Clemen’s daughters, they did in fact have successful careers for themselves, so his description of his daughters situation was factually inaccurate. Thus, he’s either lying or satirizing.

Sarah (user link) says:

you're missing the point!

Someone out there is still making money on Mark Twain’s words… excuse me all file sharers, but MegaUpload made MILLIONS by giving away stuff people worked hard on creating.
They don’t get a penny from that money..
Should we completely cancel copyrights and have everything created get stolen and SOLD for profit, without compensating the original creator?
It’s not about ideas – these cannot be copyrighted. But actual creative works? Why would a writer let someone claim ownership on his hard work and profit from it, while he still struggles to pay his/her rent?
Get over yourself – it’s not about the freedom of speech, it’s about a person’s right to make sure NOBODY is profiting from his work unless he says so.

Richard says:

Breakdown of Society

I feel that copyright and patents are just another way of exercising control over people. If copyright over everything was actually achieved, society and civilization would quickly break down entirely. Every conceivable human thought, emotion, utterance, action or object would be copyrighted by someone, and people who did not hold copyrights over items would be quickly unable to function as living human beings. As for the majority of people who only had a few copyrights over certain things, they would be overwhelmed by the amount of things they infringed on, and only those with monopolies on copyrights and patents would be the ones to benefit.

Anonymous Coward says:

“because that benefits my two daughter, who are not as competent to earn a living as I am”

This is either a very good piece of satire or one of the poorest justifications for copyright extension I’ve ever seen.

Now on the subject of copyright, my beef with it is less about length and more about fair use, especially within the context of education.

While currently we’re still enjoying some good will from most copyright owners in the form of educational discounts, it wasn’t that long ago that you had to pay full price to use anything at all.

I fear that with the deepening of this global financial meltdown those days will come back, and poorer students will be once more forced to choose between breaking the law and getting a sub-standard education that leaves them unprepared.

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