Legal battle still as relevant today as it was back in 1879

Poster for the copyright performance at Paignton

Poster for the copyright performance at Paignton - Credit: Submitted

In Ian Handford’s recent article in Torbay Weekly, he discussed the plaque in Paignton commemorating the premiere of the Gilbert and Sullivan’s 'The Pirates of Penzance'.

At the same time, I read a piece about Mike Jupp’s hilarious pictures for the 'I Love' series for Gibson jigsaws.

There is also discussion about manufacturing the Covid vaccine around the world. Only the Oxford Zenica vaccine have waved the copyright.

Surprisingly, all these stories are linked.  

Mike Jupp was surprised to find some of his jigsaws were only being given two stars on-line.

He then found that some of the jigsaws being sold under his name were fakes.

People had taken the pictures from the internet, printed them out and turned them into a poor imitation of the Gibson originals.

Most Read

If they were sold openly in the UK, legal action would have been taken but when sold on-line it is difficult to trace the source.

In 1879, Gilbert and Sullivan were not worried about anything being sold online but they did have a problem with international copyright.

The show HMS Pinafore was a major hit. It was so successful that people were going to the performance in London, writing down as much as they could remember and putting on 'pirate' versions in New York.

As there was no international copyright the writers did not receive any royalties.

At one time there were 150 unofficial productions of HMS Pinafore across America. 

Gilbert and Sullivan’s manager, Richard D’Oyly Carte, was an astute businessman.

He already had two companies touring the UK with HMS Pinafore and so sent another company to New York to put on the 'official, authorised version'.

This successfully put the pirate productions out of business, but would the same problem occur with their next show? 

He realised that if the next show had its premiere in New York it would have American copyright.

The only problem with this plan was that they also needed to ensure that it was also copyrighted in Britain.  

Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte all went over to New York for rehearsals.

It was probably as a dig at the pirated versions of HMS Pinafore that Gilbert wrote this show about pirates.  

Unfortunately, Sullivan left some of the music he had already composed back in England and so had to rewrite several songs.

He also lifted a song from an earlier Gilbert and Sullivan show, Thespis, a show which has now been lost.

The women’s chorus arrive to the song 'Climbing Over Rocky Mountain' although there are not a lot of mountains in Cornwall.

At the same time, a touring D’Oyly Carte company was putting on HMS Pinafore in Torquay and so they arranged a makeshift production of the new Pirates of Penzance in Paignton.

It was planned for December 29 but was delayed for 24 hours as the music had not arrived.

The cast, in HMS Pinafore costumes, performed a makeshift production with only 24 hours to rehearse.

Forty-seven people watched and the total receipts were £3 but that was not the point. British copyright was ensured.

Even their efforts to ensure American rights were not straightforward.

They did not publish the vocal score to avoid pirated versions. Only an American could enforce copyright in America and so the performing rights were sold for $100 to an American with an agreement that profits would be shared but even this agreement was not kept.  

In a world far more integrated than the 19th century, international copyright is even harder to enforce.

I remember when on holiday in Turkey seeing 'branded' T-shirts for £1 and in Vietnam very cheap 'Rolex' watches.

Mike Jupp is entitled to the income from his brilliant puzzles. Pharmaceutical companies need to pay for all the research required to produce a vaccine but, for the vaccine, lives are at stake.  

It is intriguing to realise that in 1879 Paignton was at the forefront of a legal battle with is still relevant today.