BAKER v. SELDEN
101 U.S. 99 (1880)
Mr. Alphonso Taft and Mr. H. P. Lloyd for the appellant.
Mr. C. W. Moulton and Mr. M. I. Southard for the appellee.
MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the court.
Charles Selden, the testator of the complainant in this case, in the year 1859 took the requisite
steps for obtaining the copyright
[*100] of a book, entitled "Selden's Condensed Ledger, or Book-
keeping Simplified," the object of which was to exhibit and explain a peculiar system of book-
keeping. In 1860 and 1861, he took the copyright of several other books, containing additions to and
improvements upon the said system.
The bill of complaint was filed against the defendant, Baker,
for an alleged infringement of these copyrights. The latter, in his answer, denied that Selden was
the author or designer of the books, and denied the infringement charged, and contends on the ar-
gument that the matter alleged to be infringed is not a lawful subject of copyright.
The parties went into proofs, and the various books of the complainant, as well as those sold and
used by the defendant, were exhibited before the examiner, and witnesses were examined on both
A decree was rendered for the complainant, and the defendant appealed.
The book or series of books of which the complainant claims the copyright consists of an intro-
ductory essay explaining the system of book-keeping referred to, to which are annexed certain
forms or blanks, consisting of ruled lines, and headings, illustrating the system and showing how it
is to be used and carried out in practice.
This system effects the same results as book-keeping by
double entry; but, by a peculiar arrangement of columns and headings, presents the entire operation,
of a day, a week, or a month, on a single page, or on two pages facing each other, in an account-
book. The defendant uses a similar plan so far as results are concerned; but makes a different ar-
rangement of the columns, and uses different headings. If the complainant's testator had the exclu-
sive right to the use of the system explained in his book, it would be difficult to contend that the de-
fendant does not infringe it, notwithstanding the difference in his form of arrangement; but if it be
assumed that the system is open to public use, it seems to be equally difficult to contend that the
books made and sold by the defendant are a violation of the copyright of the complainant's book
considered merely as a book explanatory of the system.
Where the truths of a science or the meth-
ods of an art are the common property of the whole world, and author has the right to express the
one, or explain and use the other, in
his own way.
As an author, Selden explained the sys-
tem in a particular way.
It may be conceded that Baker makes and uses account-books arranged on
substantially the same system; but the proof fails to show that he has violated the copyright of
Selden's book, regarding the latter merely as an explanatory work; or that he has infringed Selden's