EU copyright on Joyce works ends at midnight

Sat, Dec 31, 2011, 00:00

COPYRIGHT ON James Joyce’s works in the EU expires at midnight tonight.

From tomorrow, January 1st, writings published during Joyce’s lifetime – Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulyssesand Finnegans Wake– are available for publication and quotation without reference or payment to the James Joyce estate.

Joyce died on January 13th, 1941; originally, copyright in these works in Britain and Ireland extended for 50 years, until 1991. However, some two years after that date, EU copyright law was harmonised to bring it into line with German practice and the period was extended to 70 years.

The end of copyright protection will enable creative artists and theatre companies to stage adaptations and re-enactments. Public broadcast will also be possible. Joyce’s solitary play, Exiles, can also be freely staged, and productions are likely.

The Pan-Pan theatre company is interested in an Exiles-related project around next Bloomsday, while the play Gibraltarby Patrick Fitzgerald, which opens in the New Theatre, Dublin, tomorrow night, draws heavily on the text of Ulysses. Another project well in train is publication of a special edition of Joyce’s short story The Deadby the James Joyce Centre.

Despite the freedom offered by the change, grey areas remain.

Some of Joyce’s manuscripts were reproduced in 1979 in the James Joyce Archive, but others have never been published. The National Library of Ireland is directly involved in this issue, since it is the holder of the largest collection of unpublished Joyce manuscripts in the world.

The legal position over these manuscripts remains unclear. Recently a group of scholars wrote to the library seeking clarity on the issue, while well-known Joycean Senator David Norris has tabled a motion in the Seanad calling for a statement on the issue.