A question of Joyce copyright

Tue, Apr 17, 2012, 01:00

Sir, – I write regarding Terence Killeen’s two articles (Home News, April 12th).

Prior to and in anticipation of the expiry of the Joyce copyright on January 1st, 2012, I sought to involve the National Library of Ireland in a project – indeed several projects of different scales to accommodate its budget – to edit the more important of the Joyce manuscripts in their collection. To this end I furnished the director, Fiona Ross, with details in writing of my concerns and met her in the library to explain both the scholarly importance of these and the urgency to act in view of the expiry of copyright.

I had every expectation of a close co-operation – my expertise applied on their behalf to exploit materials acquired at great cost to the State. In the end, to my surprise, as the library had expressed a keen interest, Ms Ross told me that that she had been informed by a superior that the library was disinclined to become involved at any level.

At no time did she inform me of any in-house plans to publish the raw documents on the internet, without proper attendant annotation / commentary. Moreover, as these papers are in part notoriously difficult to read, a scholarly transcription is an essential aspect of any useable publication.

Understanding that the library was disinterested and appreciating the consequence of publication, which might result in the inaccessibility of these papers to scholars (and to me), at the beginning of 2012 I decided to go ahead at my own considerable effort and cost and prepare and publish a fully annotated version of the manuscripts in which I was interested. Their publication as The Dublin Ulysses Papers by James Joyce (East Lansing: House of Breathings, 2012. See houseofbreathings.com) was and is fully lawful and brings with it in Irish law an “economic right” equivalent to copyright for a term of 25 years (see Article 34 of the 2000 Copyright Act). Thus the act of publication effectively entails a transfer of copyright (public domain to publisher) on the tail of the earlier transferral (Joyce estate to public domain).

That the library understands this is apparent from its own publication and also from its statements on its website, where it states that any use of “its” materials (other than to look at them) must be with its permission. (The headline on your news piece “Joyce collection published free on web” is misleading.) The library is acting in exactly the same manner as I did, only (and significantly) belatedly. The legal situation now is that the library is in continuing infringement of my copyright, but has itself acquired economic rights in the EU (excluding the UK) over all of the materials published by it other than those included in my edition.

There is something more. I stated very explicitly that it was my intention to pass over to the Irish State my newly acquired rights for the genuinely free use of these materials by the public (and not one subject to the approval of some panel).

By proceeding to publish these papers in digital image form, Ms Ross has effectively rejected my proposed gift by suggesting I have in fact nothing to give. All that was necessary was for her, being aware of my publication and of her consequent legal position, to contact me and some arrangement could have been reached where both of our ends could have been met. My actions were entirely lawful, blameless and public-minded.

This whole affair exemplifies the problems that have long beset Ireland, where the prevailing attitude is to begrudge and prevent entrepreneurial endeavours of private citizens even when these stand to significantly benefit the public’s collective interests. As for Terence Killeen’s references to the price asked for the volumes, in 2002 a Belgian publisher, Brepols, brought out an edition of Finnegans Wake notebooks parallel to what I have now done for Ulysses. Each volume was in today’s money more expensive than mine, yet the self-same Mr Killeen effusively praised this non-Irish production in an article in The Irish Times without complaining about the price. – Yours, etc,

DANIS ROSE,

Strawberry Beds, Dublin.