My slugly progress through The History of Tom Jones has at last brought me to Book XII, Chapter i, titled "Showing what is to be deemed plagiarism in a modern author, and what is to be considered as lawful prize". Henry Fielding argues for a sensible position on intellectual property rights and a finite duration of copyright --- in his usual tongue-in-cheek style:

... The antients may be considered as a rich common, where every person who hath the smallest tenement in Parnassus hath a free right to fatten his muse. Or, to place it in a clearer light, we moderns are to the antients what the poor are to the rich. By the poor here I mean that large and venerable body which, in English, we call the mob. Now, whoever hath had the honour to be admitted to any degree of intimacy with this mob, must well know that it is one of their established maxims to plunder and pillage their rich neighbours without any reluctance; and that this is held to be neither sin nor shame among them. And so constantly do they abide and act by this maxim, that, in every parish almost in the kingdom, there is a kind of confederacy ever carrying on against a certain person of opulence called the squire, whose property is considered as free-booty by all his poor neighbours; who, as they conclude that there is no manner of guilt in such depredations, look upon it as a point of honour and moral obligation to conceal, and to preserve each other from punishment on all such occasions.

In like manner are the antients, such as Homer, Virgil, Horace, Cicero, and the rest, to be esteemed among us writers, as so many wealthy squires, from whom we, the poor of Parnassus, claim an immemorial custom of taking whatever we can come at. This liberty I demand, and this I am as ready to allow again to my poor neighbours in their turn. All I profess, and all I require of my brethren, is to maintain the same strict honesty among ourselves which the mob show to one another. To steal from one another is indeed highly criminal and indecent; for this may be strictly stiled defrauding the poor (sometimes perhaps those who are poorer than ourselves), or, to set it under the most opprobrious colours, robbing the spittal.

(see also TradingInGhosts (1 Oct 1999), IdeaThievery (25 Apr 2001), ArtNewspaper (4 Aug 2001), PublicDomain (13 Feb 2003), CatfightClub (5 Sep 2003), FlagranteDelictoPhilosopher (19 Sep 2003), MacaulayOnCopyright (27 Jan 2004), ... )

TopicLiterature - TopicSociety - 2003-11-03

(correlates: GoWords, FreeTrope, IntellectualHeirs, ...)