Baker v. Selden (101 U.S. 99)


Complainant Selden filed a complaint of infringement against Baker alleging that the latter infringed Charles Selden’s, testator of the complainant, book entitled “Selden’s Condensed Ledger, or Bookkeeping Simplified” which exhibits and explains a system of bookkeeping by using a peculiar arrangement of columns and headings. Baker presents also a system but makes a different arrangement of the columns and uses different headings. Complainant contends that Charles Selden alone can use the system or method explained in his book to the exclusion of others. Baker argues that the matter alleged to be infringed is not subject of copyright. The court ruled for complainant Selden.


Whether or not a system of bookkeeping illustrated in a book under copyright protection is entitled to the author’s exclusive use.

Ruling: NO.

But there is a clear distinction between the book as such and the art which it is intended to illustrate. The novelty of the art or thing described or explained has nothing to do with the validity of the copyright. To give to the author of the book an exclusive property in the art described therein when no examination of its novelty has ever been officially made would be a surprise and a fraud upon the public. That is the province of letters patent, not of copyright. The claim to an invention or discovery of an art or manufacture must be subjected to the examination of the Patent Office before an exclusive right therein can be obtained, and it can only be secured by a patent from the government. The description of the art in a book, though entitled to the benefit of copyright, lays no foundation for an exclusive claim to the art itself. The object of the one is explanation; the object of the other is use. The former may be secured by copyright. The latter can only be secured, if it can be secured at all, by letters patent.

The conclusion to which we have come is that blank account books are not the subject of copyright, and that the mere copyright of Selden’s book did not confer upon him the exclusive right to make and use account books, ruled and arranged as designated by him and described and illustrated in said book.


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