Court of King's Bench, Tuesday, June 10th, 1777.


This was a case out of Chancery for the opinion of this Court, stating, that the plaintiff about twelve years ago composed and wrote a certain musical composition for the harpsichord, called a sonata; and that being desirous of publishing the said work or composition, together with other musical works, compositions and writings, he did apply for and obtain His Majesty's license, dated the 15th day of December, 1763, whereby His Majesty did grant unto the Plaintiff, his executors, administrators and assigns, his Royal licence for the sole printing and publishing the said works mentioned in the said license, for fourteen years from the date of the same, as appears by the said license;  and that about four years ago the plaintiff composed and wrote another musical composition for the harpsichord, called a sonata; together with an accompaniment for the viol di gamba; and that the defendants, being music sellers and copartners, had lately obtained copies of the two several sonatas, musical works, or compositions before mentioned, together with the said accompaniment to the latter: and had lately in the name of the said John Christian Bach, but without his license of consent, printed, published, and sold for profit, divers copies of the said two several compositions and accompaniment.  And it likewise appeared, that it was possible to know the musical compositions of any master or composer of musick, who had composed any quantity thereof.  The question was, whether a musical composition is within the statute of the 8th of Ann. c. 19, intitled An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors, or Purchasers, of such Copies during the Times therein Mentioned ?

Mr. Robinson for the plaintiff.--Mr. Wood for the defendant.

Lord Mansfield called on Mr. Wood to begin; and without hearing Mr. Robinson in answer said that the case was so clear and the arguments such, that it was difficult to speak seriously upon it.  The words of the Act of Parliament are very large:  "books and other writings."  It is not confined to language or letters.  Music is a science; it may be written; and the mode of conveying the ideas, is by signs and marks.  A person may use the copy by playing it; but he has no right to rob the author of the profit, by multiplying copies and disposing of them to his own use.  If the narrow interpretation contended for in the argument were to hold, it would equally apply to algebra, mathematics, arithmetic, hieroglyphics.  All these are conveyed by signs and figures.  There is no colour for saying that music is not within the Act.  Afterwards, on Monday, June 16th, the Court certified in these words, "Having heard counsel and considered this case, we are of opinion, that a musical composition is a writing within the Statute of the 8th of Queen Anne, intitled An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein Mentioned."