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 That link above talks a bit about how there are still efforts to control Joyce’s “unpublished” works — such as letters and correspondence — by twisting the law. The law does cover published and unpublished works differently, but on the assumption that “unpublished works” were works that were intended to be published.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.

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Comments on “Irish Bloomsday Celebrations Finally Possible Without Threat Of Copyright Claims From James Joyce Estate”

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Anonymous Coward says:

‘extending copyright for the benefit of ageing rock stars is something EU lawmakers do in their lunch break’ and is something they should be ashamed of doing. it shows how much they want to do to appease those that keep boosting their coffers and how much contempt they have for allowing the public to elaborate on a deceased persons works. and all the while trying to say how much they stand for and do to encourage innovation. what absolute, hypocritical bull shit!!

Rikuo (profile) says:

Copyright – granted to an author for the purpose of advancing science and the arts.
How can the author advance science/arts when they’re dead?

While I am obviously well aware of the concept of life + 70 years in copyright…I’ve never heard of the legal arguments made in favour. Does anyone know? What exactly was said on that day oh so long ago, to somehow say that copyright fulfils its purpose after the author’s death?

MrWilson says:

Re: Re:

The usual excuse that I’ve seen rolled out is that the author’s widow and children (because all author’s are men, right?) need to be able to make money off of their dead husband/father’s works.

Of course the actual explanation is that publishing companies that have insisted authors sign over their works still want to make money after the author dies.

One other, absurdly paranoid suggestion I’ve seen is that if copyrights died with the author, fans would start killing authors to get access to their works sooner.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The argument for such a long copyright is that the author will have more incentive to publicly release their works if they, their children, their grandchildren, and apparently their great grandchildren can benefit. It’s an argument I completely disagree with, and I think is completely bumpkin as I doubt there is any author who would refuse to publicly release their work with a life+50 copyright term, but would with a life+70 copyright term. However, it still has some semblance of logic in that it’s pretending to be a carrot for the act of publishing a work.

Where it gets not only stupid, but not even vaguely logical, is the retroactive extension of copyright. If the author was happy enough with a life+50 term that he published his works, then there is no possible explanation for granting a life+70 term other than complete stupidity, ignorance, and/or corruption on the part of politicians.

This is especially true when you realize that copyright does not grant a new right to the author, but removes rights from everyone else. You could maybe argue that the extension is a way of saying thank you, like giving a tip to the taxi driver. Normally however, you say thank you with your own means, not with others. That is, they are taking away my rights to say thank you. Screw that.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What exactly was said on that day oh so long ago, to somehow say that copyright fulfils its purpose after the author’s death?

It began in the UK in 1842 – originally it was just 7 years after death – but the drip drip of constant lobbying has taken us to the present position.

You can find the answer to your question here:

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If I’m not mistaken, early on in the embedded podcast in this recent Techdirt article is a textbook copyright goon explaining that, like all people, content creators want to ensure that they can exploit something they made a long time ago to continue generating money, providing their children and grandchildren with income for no additional effort.
You know. Just like people in every other occupation.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Someday we may end up thanking the copyright lobby and the extremists such as the Joyce estate. For years we have seen copyright extensions extended without resistance in legislatures and with only minimal resistance from the courts. But as the copyright lobby has reached a point where they keep trying to go a bridge too far.

Before SOPA and ACTA we had lots of scholars aware of the problems of excessive copyright, but scholars alone lack organized political power. SOPA and ACTA have mobilized organizers. They have brought the issues to the attention of journalists. The excesses of copyright trolls and various estates have raised awareness in the judiciary.

The war is not over by any means, but thanks to the IP industry we now have lobbies supporting the public domain, fair dealing, indie artists, and innovation. Those lobbies are getting better access to the press, and amicus briefs from these groups now get more attention in the courts.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

The one thing that I don’t understand: how can the law be retroactive.

In college courses, I was always told “the law is not retroactive,” “the law is not retroactive,” “the law is not retroactive”. So if I make a law today saying that smoking is illegal, I can’t arrest people that smoked yesterday or the day before!

What is this madness? That’s like setting someone free because they served their time (art is in prison, get it?), then going to his house a year later and drag him back to jail because there’s a new law saying the penalty for that crime is now 5 years more than before.

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