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THORVALD SOLBERG!<br>First appointed Register of Copyrights (1897)<br>Two Page Signed Letter (interesting content)<br>On Library of Congress Stationary, watemarked<br>with impressed seal dated 1918

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Here is a very interesting historical two-page document dated January 15, 1918 hand signed by Thorvald Solberg, the first appointed Register of Copyrights. Solberg was appointed the newly founded office in 1897 by President William McKinley and remained in office until 1930. Previous to his appointment, there was no separate department at the Library of Congress for copyright registration. To this day Solberg's writings are widely quoted - even during the recent "Napster" controversy.

Solberg was a progressive thinker who lobbied hard for congressional action on what he considered to be inadequate and antiquated copyright statutes. His frustration with the old laws are illustrated in the letter offered for sale here as he attempts to explain why 19th century songwriter Harry Kennedy's complete publication records for the song, "Au Revoir, But Not Goodbye", simply do not exist.

In part, he states (page two);

"In answer to you fourth question I beg to say that careful search of the index of assignments fails to disclose the recordation of any assignment of this copyright claim. But you are, of course, aware that that is not conclusive proof that no assignment exists.

"I trust that we have made clear in our former correspondence that prior to July 1, 1909, when the new Copyright Act went into effect, there was no provision of law to compel the registration in this Office of the date of publication and therefore we have no facts of record as to the exact date of publication of this music."

It is letters like this one that illustrate the reasons behind Solberg's resolve in changing the copyright laws. In his book on Copyright Law, Solberg further opined:

"It is doubtful if the enactment of further merely partial or temporizing legislation will afford satisfactory remedies for the insufficiencies and inconsistencies of the present laws. The subject should be dealt with as a whole, and the insufficient and antiquated laws now in force be replaced by one consistent, liberal, and adequate statute.

"The laws as they stand fail to give the protection required, are difficult of interpretation, application, and administration, leading to misapprehension and misunderstanding, and in some directions are open to abuses."

And in the government circular, Copyright Office Bulletin No. 8 (1905) Solberg further states:

"During more than a century of legislation upon this subject, a highly technical copyright system has been developed, under which valuable literary and artistic property rights . . . may be rendered nugatory by reason of failure to fully comply with purely arbitrary requirements."

Interestingly, this letter is not in correspondence with Harry Kennedy himself - whose song is being discussed - but with two other gentlemen who have an apparent concern with the song. A little research shed some light:

At the lower left of page two, you will note the addressees as:

"Messrs. Goldie and Gumm
27 Cedar Street
New York, N. Y."

My research has turned up nothing enlightening regarding "Goldie" (although it is likely he was an attorney), but the name of "Gumm" certainly does carry significance in this case.

Famed song publisher and composer Harry Von Tilzer's real name was "Harry Gumm". Harry's younger brother Albert (who also legally changed his name to Von Tilzer) was the composer (along with Lew Brown) of a song called "Au Revoir, not Goodbye (Soldier Boy)" - a very similar title to Kennedy's song, "Au Revoir, Not Goodbye".

Von Tilzer's "Au Revoir" was published in 1917 while Kennedy's was copyrighted in 1893 and subsequently recorded by popular British tenor John McCormack in 1914 (HMV Recordings B 13033-1, March 28, 1913) Interestingly, all copyright notices of future published versions of Kennedy's song bear a copyright date of 1918 (the year of Von Tilzer's correspondence with Solberg).

It is possible that similarities between the two songs might have spurred some legal action on the part of Kennedy, and that this "investigation" at the copyright office by Von Tilzer was, in turn, spurred by such concerns.

It is interesting that Albert Von Tilzer (or is brother Harry, on Albert's behalf) would use the name of "Gumm" in such correspondence - almost as if he didn't want Solberg to realize the motive behind the inquiry. Things haven't changed much in the law biz.

In any case, the dispute between the two "Au Revoir" authors makes a perfect argument for improving the discrepancies in copyright law that Solberg fought so hard to implement.

Both pages of the offered letter bear the watermark of the U.S. Copyright Office (unfortunately not visible in scan - but when held up to the light the watermarks are quite clear). The second page also bears the impressed seal of the Copyright Office (visible in scan) and Thorvald Solberg's handwritten signature.

A great piece of early music law history from a pioneer who helped shape the copyright laws into what they are today.

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