According to an article in the Irish Times (registration required) the Joyce estate has informed the Irish government that it intends to sue for copyright infringement if there are any public readings of Joyce’s works during the festival commemorating the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday this June.
James Joyce died in 1941 and the copyright in his work expired in 1991. Then the EU extended terms to life+70 years, and the work went back into copyright in July 1995. The estate has been very active in enforcing their copyright, suing regularly. While some of their actions have been aimed at issues such as protecting the memory of Joyce’s daughter Lucia from scrutiny, other suits have been against non-commercial uses of the works by fans. As such, they seem solely concerned with the financial health of the estate [admittedly one of their roles] having no concern for nurturing the greater cultural legacy of Joyce.
The Irish Times notes that “In 1998, the Joyce estate objected to readings of Ulysses live over the Internet, which was facilitated by Ireland.com. The case was settled out of court.” Now the estate has issued a letter to the Irish government warning that all use must be cleared with the estate – which means that there can be no public reading during the festival, and a planned production of Joyce’s Exiles by the Abbey theatre must be cancelled.
Public readings do not displace commercialised use of Joyce’s work, so the estate does not lose income from their occurrence. Of course, the estate is technically within its ‘rights’ (though this does indicate reasons for reforming European copyright law) but such vigorous enforcement is unnecessary and distasteful.