Last Updated on February 27, 2019, 3:11 pm ET
This week is Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week, an annual celebration of the important doctrines of fair use and fair dealing. It is designed to highlight and promote the opportunities presented by fair use and fair dealing, celebrate successful stories, and explain these doctrines.
*This is a guest blog post by Jonathan Band, policybandwidth*
Fair Use Week properly celebrates a critical limitation on copyright protection that enables free expression and creativity. And at the beginning of this year, we celebrated works entering into the public domain because their copyright term (finally!) expired. The recent death of Betty Ballantine, one of the founders of Bantam Books and Ballantine Books, reminds us of another limitation that stimulated the growth of the U.S. publishing industry: the manufacturing clause. Until the United States joined the Universal Copyright Convention in 1954, the Copyright Act’s manufacturing clause protected English-language literary works only if they were printed in the United States with the copyright owners’ authorization. This allowed U.S. publishers to reprint British works that weren’t printed in the United States without paying royalties to the British authors.
The importance of the manufacturing clause was underscored in the Washington Post’s obituary about Betty Ballantine, who passed away on February 12, 2019. The obituary explained how Betty Ballantine and her husband, Ian Ballantine, helped develop the market for paperback books in the United States. Prior to World War II, paperback books were primarily poorly made pulp novels. After the War, “the Ballantines took advantage of new technology in production and distribution and of a clause in copyright law discovered by Ian that waived fees on books from Britain, where high quality paperbacks were easier to find.” The clause that Ian “discovered” was the manufacturing clause, which actually was well known at the time. They founded Bantam Books, which, among other titles, published British bestsellers that had not yet been printed in the United States. In 1952, they established Ballantine Books based on the same business model. Both Bantam Books and Ballantine Books eventually became part of Penguin Random House.
In other words, large divisions of a major publishing house have their roots in a limitation on copyright protection. Moreover, this limitation encouraged the growth of an important market segment: paperback books. In this instance, the manufacturing clause worked exactly as intended; it promoted the development of U.S. printers and publishers at the expense of foreign rights holders. The manufacturing clause, when adopted in 1891, actually expanded the rights of foreign authors. Prior to the clause’s adoption, foreign authors received no copyright protection in the United States. Under the manufacturing clause, foreign works received copyright protection if they were printed in the United States. This approach provided increased protection for foreign authors without harming the developing U.S. printing industry because the foreign works received protection only if they were printed on U.S. presses. Nonetheless, the manufacturing clause departed from the national treatment approach of the Berne Convention, adopted five years earlier in 1886.
Although the manufacturing clause was an improvement over the previous situation of receiving no protection, foreign authors still objected to it because U.S. publishers often printed their books in the United States before they had the opportunity to authorize U.S. publication. In 1909, Congress exempted foreign language works from the manufacturing clause, but it still applied to books published in English. In 1954, in the context of joining the Universal Copyright Convention (“UCC”), Congress excluded all foreign works—even those in English–from the scope of the manufacturing clause. By then, the United States had become a major exporter of copyrighted works, and U.S. publishers would benefit from receiving protection of their works overseas under the UCC. The printing trade unions opposed the United States joining the UCC and the narrowing of the manufacturing clause. Nonetheless, until 1986, the manufacturing clause still applied to U.S. authors, meaning that U.S. authors received copyright protection only if their books were printed in the United States.
The exemption of English language books from the scope of the manufacturing clause in 1954 disrupted the Ballantines’ business model. But by then, their publishing houses were well established, and they went on to publish many popular books with the authors’ permission. Balzac said that “behind every great fortune there lies a great crime.” It could be said behind every publisher lies a copyright limitation.