Actions of Joyce estate highlight problems with copyright law

February 8th, 2004 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

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 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.

Update (2005-02-28): I mistakenly deleted trackbacks from
Badda Blog! Forget the groundhog, today is Daedalus’s Day Sufro en silencio

  1. 21 Responses to “Actions of Joyce estate highlight problems with copyright law”

  2. By Francis on Feb 15, 2004 | Reply

    Maybe there should be a Joycott starting on Bloomsday, in protest.

  3. By Subdued Citizen on Feb 16, 2004 | Reply

    Maybe the Greek government should sue the Joycean estate for a share of the royalties from sales of Ulysses, on behalf of the Homeric estate, seeing as how Joyce borrowed liberally from the Odyssey.

  4. By Scott on Feb 16, 2004 | Reply

    Wait – when the EU extended copyright terms, they made it *retroactive*, taking things that had been in the public domain for up to *20 years* back into private hands? Whose idea was that happy horseshit? Can people be sued for public domain use during the period prior to the copyright extension? What happens to the rights to derivative works published during that time?

  5. By Harry Payne on Feb 16, 2004 | Reply

    “Wait – when the EU extended copyright terms, they made it *retroactive*, taking things that had been in the public domain for up to *20 years* back into private hands? Whose idea was that happy horseshit?”

    Some sodding bunch of bureaucrats in Brussels who had been told exactly what sort of mayhem it would cause.

    “What happens to the rights to derivative works published during that time?”

    Depends on the Estate. Tom Holt was told his “Mapp and Lucia” novels, based on the works of E.F. Benson, couldn’t be reprinted. Marcus Rowland’s “ABC” role-playing game, based on “With the Night Mail” by Rudyard Kipling, carried on with the Estate’s tacit approval.

  6. By Natalie on Feb 17, 2004 | Reply

    I must agree with the rest of you, it seems rather silly that they are objecting. I would think they would want to keep his work alive by allowing public reading and performances. It is what I would do if a family member had written such a work. It seems just as bad as when Ulysses was censored during its publication year. Have we gone that backward?

  7. By Yves Seban on Mar 20, 2004 | Reply

    It sould be said that Joyce has not always been treated like the genius he was. So the estate has been burnt many times in private matters. But didn’t Joyce write to be published and read. The last blow to Finnegans Wake was that it was published when Germany declared war. And Joyce lamented: “But they should read my book.” If ever public readings of this joyful work shoulld be read, it’d be now, but there’s a grandson somewhere who guards the wake and prevents anybody to attend it. Only a happy few who clear “artistic” merits with Mr. Grandson can have the pleasure of a public perfromance. Mr. Ball for example and his horrendous recording with Irish harp. I had to ask permission for a public reading in New York at the Performing garage and submitted a recording. Mr. Grandson and Madame Solange destroyed me, insulted me in a manuscript letter about my style and accents. I felt horrible for a few months and I Kept reading the work clandestinely. I turned to reading the Wake in its Italian, French and Spanish translations now as a way to bypass the petit fils and so that we can resurrect his grandfather’s spirit in obscure reading wakes poorly attended. We will go on. What would Joyce say about his estate realtor?

  8. By Steve Kudlak on Jun 17, 2004 | Reply

    Gee even think of making an RSS feed of this. Gack this is annother project to get into, right? Know how ro use, now do I wanna know how it works and can I do it myeelf, but it is as not totally oveecrowded. Ya know all those things get so easy to do that all the “natural male enhancement pill” sellers decide it’s a dany way for us to hear about their wares.

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