Irish Bloomsday Celebrations Finally Possible Without Threat Of Copyright Claims From James Joyce Estate
from the yay-public-domain dept
We’ve written a few times about the works of James Joyce, and how his estate — mainly at the behest of his grandson, Steven — was particularly aggressive (even to egregious levels) in stopping anyone from quoting Joyce’s works. As we stated a year ago, for Europe and much of other parts of the world, starting this year, Joyce’s published works have moved into the public domain (70 years after Joyce’s death), leading to great excitement about how people can build on them.
In the US, the story is a bit more complex, however, as the Joyce Estate claims that Ulysses is still under copyright, having not been officially published as a book until 1934. Others, however, argue that the book is in the public domain, for a variety of reasons. I was a bit surprised, then, to read this PBS article, which seems to imply the work is officially public domain in the US. At best, that’s a point of contention.
Either way, in Ireland, it’s clear that Ulysses is in the public domain, and since this past weekend was Bloomsday, the popular celebration of all things Joyce (based on the date on which the book Ulysses takes place) there was, indeed, renewed excitement around the event (thanks to Joe for sending this and other links).
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. That link above talks a bit about how there are still efforts to control Joyce’s “unpublished” works — such as letters and correspondence — by twisting the law. The law does cover published and unpublished works differently, but on the assumption that “unpublished works” were works that were intended to be published. When we’re talking about letters and other issues of historical note, which scholars would love to make use of, it’s ridiculous to stifle such things in the name of copyright.
Even worse, as Becky Hogge warns in The Atlantic, regulators who love to extend copyright law brought Joyce’s works back in from the public domain in the past and could do so again:
2012 is not the first year Joyce entered the public domain in Ireland; that happened twenty years ago, only for the European Union to retroactively extend so-called authorial copyright from 50 years after the author’s death to 70. The extension handed control of Ulysses back to the estate, causing untold legal trouble for scholars already beginning to take advantage of its public domain status to release new editions.
I’ve witnessed at close quarters a similar extension granted to copyrights held by performers and record labels in the EU. What I learned then was that politicians extend copyright like most of us write thank-you notes: it’s the least they can do to show their gratitude for the attentions of an industry they’d have preferred to join had their looks and talent permitted. In the context of the subsidies granted to farmers or fishermen, extending copyright for the benefit of ageing rock stars is something EU lawmakers do in their lunch break
Hopefully, with a world more aware, thanks to SOPA and ACTA and the like, pushing through such things won’t be quite so simple. But it is something that people need to be vigilant about.