James Joyce Estate Sends Takedown For Joyce Quote In DNA

from the a-portrait-of-an-intellectual-monopolist dept

Craig Venter, who is no stranger to advocating stronger and stronger IP laws — especially in the area of “synthetic life” — apparently learned recently how those laws can reach ridiculous levels. In a recent presentation, he noted that his team had encoded a James Joyce quote in the DNA of the “synthetic life” he’s been trying to create. However, the James Joyce estate was not amused and sent him a cease-and-desist. Venter notes that he felt that it was fair use to include a quote. The quote was really short:

?To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life.?

To claim that this is infringement seems pretty ridiculous. What’s unclear from the article, though, is whether or not Venter fought this or just accepted it and agreed to take the quote out. This isn’t the first time that the Joyce estate has done stuff like this, including an attempt to stifle a biography by use of a copyright claim. In that case, the estate finally learned that they had no claim when they actually had to pay up to settle the case.

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Comments on “James Joyce Estate Sends Takedown For Joyce Quote In DNA”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Is the quote copyrighted? If so, it’s not nearly that simple. I was asking Mike, so I’ll wait and see if he explains what he meant. It’s these sort of conclusory statements from him that leave me scratching my head wondering why he couldn’t put a little effort into backing them up with a bit of argument or analysis.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Fair Use

> Is the quote copyrighted? If so, it’s not
> nearly that simple.

Of course it is. That’s why it’s fair use. Fair use is an exception that allows use of copyrighted material without permission.

If it wasn’t copyrighted, then fair use wouldn’t be an issue. It would just be plain use.

And yes, what those guys did is perfectly legitmate fair use. Even if it wasn’t, I’d just ignore the Joyce estate anyway, because it’s extremely unlikely they’ll ever have access to either the organism in question or the specialized equipment necessary to examine its DNA to determine whether the encoded quote has been removed or not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Someone they have a genetic connection to wrote those words to make money and now in a horrible irony someone has written those words into genes presumably with money making in mind.

Genes replicate, if this is not stopped now there will be no controlling the royalty free spread of these biological pirates.

He should be glad of the cease and desist rather than having to pay a fee for each iteration of the information.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Me stating that it was ridiculous was an opinion, which I believe to be self-evident.

I’m curious as to how you would think that it’s NOT ridiculous to send a cease-and-desist here?

You didn’t answer the question, as I’m sure you’re well aware. How is the claim that this is infringement ridiculous?

Gerard Leahy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Presume you are speaking in jest here ? – since of course Joyce nicked little if anything from Homer. Usually Joyce the magpie purloined and plundered from everywhere and anywhere including from the great plunderer Shakespeare but always sufficient to weave a garment richly allusional to provide a blanket of hommage to touch and unpick with pleasure and wonder.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t copyright length for “Life plus 70 years”, both in the US and Ireland? And did not James Joyce die in January of 1941? So would not the copyright have EXPIRED two months ago?

Not so simple:


However, it does appear that this particular quote comes from “A Portrait…” which does appear to be in the public domain in the US… making this C&D even more ridiculous. I wonder if they claimed something other than copyright? Publicity rights?

Or maybe they were going under EU rules, where “Portrait..” goes into the PD next year. But since Venter is here in the US… again that seems like a problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Venter also inserted what he believed was a quote from the Caltech physicist Richard Feynman: “What I cannot buid, I cannot understand.”
Caltech reacted to news of Venter’s work by sending him a picture of Feynman’s blackboard where the quote was written.
Venter says he going back to correct the error so that the DNA will now read: “What I cannot create, I do not understand”.

Donny (profile) says:



Good GOD. Seeing that really hit me with how absurd this idea is. Who’ll really care about the works by then, except those who’ve been told to or made to, who’ll approach them as dead scholarly institutions, instead of the playful exciting invigorating living creative works they deserve to be read as.

It is a damn shame Finnegan’s wake hasn’t become a compendium of a thousand genius’ wit, instead of just one. And by the time it becomes possible to do that, well who’ll really want to try? There’ll be a hundred year gap between authors.

Jeffery says:

Ok, so I looked over the link provided: http://english.osu.edu/research/organizations/ijjf/copyrightfaqs.cfm

And, given that its from the same group who clearly have no idea how to assert copyright law (the aforementioned James Joyce Foundation), I doubt any of it is accurate. In fact, I re-read the relevant laws, and unless it was published for a corporation (and is, thus, owned by said corporation), life + 70 years is the copyright term of his works. Pretty much all of them are public domain now.

I shall begin publishing James Joyce writings on my blog shortly.

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