Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Critic: H. G. Wells gripes about copyright infringement in 1898 letter to editor

Here’s a serious but hilarious letter seminal science fiction author H. G. Wells wrote to the editors of The Critic, a British literary periodical, in January 1898, complaining about copyright infringement of his recently published serial, The War of the Worlds.
The Editors of The Critic:

I have received a rather startling cutting from the Boston Post through the Authors' Clipping Bureau. The cutting is dated Dec. 27, the accompanying invoice is dated Dec. 31, the Boston post-mark is Jan. 7, and it has reached me here to-day. From it I learn that my story The War of the Worlds “as applied to New England, showing how the strange voyagers from Mars visited Boston and vicinity,” is now appearing in the Post. This adaptation is a serious infringement of my copyright and has been made altogether without my participation or consent. I feel bound to protest in the most emphatic way against this manipulation of my work in order to fit it to the requirements of the local geography.

Yet it is possible that this affair is not so much downright wickedness as a terrible mistake. The story originally appeared simultaneously in the American Cosmopolitan and the British Pearson's Magazine. Mr. Dewey of the New York Journal called upon me in November last and arranged for its serial republication in the evening edition of that paper. In our agreement (of which I have his signed memorandum) it was stipulated that the publication should be with the consent of the American publishers and that no alterations in the text of the story should be made without my consent. On Dec. 26 I received a cablegram from the Boston Post making an offer for the serial reproduction of The War of the Worlds “as New York Journal.” To this I cabled “Agreed.” And now I find too late that my story has been flaunted before the cultivated public of Boston, disguised and disarrayed beyond my imagining. What has been done to it? I fail to see how a rag of conviction can remain in it after this outrage. I do not know what a remote Englishman may do in such a matter. At any rate I beg you will give me the opportunity of disavowing any share in this novel development of the local color business.

H. G. Wells
Heatherlea, Worcester Park
Surrey, England, 21 Jan. 1898
The letter was originally published in the 12 March 1898 issue of The Critic.


Anonymous said...

Do you know about the Librivox reading of the sequel to this pirated version of "The War of the Worlds"?
Garrett P. Serviss.
I listened and was rather impressed. Not with the literary merit... But with the scope and imagination. It's a heckuva ride.

I prefer to remain anomalous...

Paul said...

I'm familiar with the novel but not the Librivox recording. Thanks, I'll have to check it out.