Joyce Copyright Expires, Ending Grandson’s Reign of Terror
Happy New Year! Consider celebrating by staging a seasonal reading of “The Dead” in Dublin, which you can now do for free! Yes, on January 1, 2012, all of James Joyce’s writings published during his lifetime entered the public domain in the EU, freeing up the characters, stories, and words for use by ordinary people. Though already available to Canadians and Australians, and partially available to Americans, public domain status for Joyce’s works in his home country of Ireland has a lot of people very excited.
The new availability of Joyce’s writings is more important than one would expect for two reasons: Bloomsday, and Stephen Joyce. June 16, the day of the events in Joyce’s Ulysses, is Bloomsday, when celebrations of Joyce occur around the world. These celebrations are particularly enthusiastic in Dublin, where the novel is set, and they generally include public readings of Ulysses. In previous years, readings in the EU required permission from the Joyce estate. Stephen Joyce, James Joyce’s grandson and only living descendant, has control of that estate and has blocked many public performances of his work in recent years. This year, Bloomsday celebrators will be free to observe the occasion as they see fit.
Stephen Joyce also has a tempestuous relationship with the scholarly community, resulting in aggressively pursuing anyone who tries to use Joyce’s writing as part of a scholarly endeavor (the estate has even gone so far as to threaten to sue biochemists who programmed a Joyce quotation into a bacterial genome). He appears to be motivated by a combination of mistrust of scholarship and a strong desire to protect the family’s privacy—laudable purposes, perhaps, if the result weren’t such a radical stifling of any public discussion. In 2006, the author of a book on James Joyce’s daughter Lucia filed suit against the estate with the help of Lawrence Lessig and the Fair Use Project, arguing that the Joyce Estate had engaged in copyright misuse. The estate settled in 2007, allowing the author to publish the material and eventually agreeing to pay her attorneys’ fees. In the EU, where fair use is not expressly recognized, a scholar might not be so lucky.
The new freedom of EU scholars, writers, and performers to use Joyce’s writings without having to satisfy a hard-to-please copyright holder should make 2012 a great year for Joyce fans. But it’s not just the European Joyceans who have something to celebrate: in the US, Joyce’s unpublished and unregistered works also enter public domain this year, joining his pre-1923 published writings.