Joyce enters the public domain


Today is Bloomsday – next year’s will be better still as everyone will be free to publish or perform Joyce’s works without seeking permission from his estate, writes TERENCE KILLEEN

EXCITEMENT IS already building in the Joyce world about the lifting of copyright restrictions on James Joyce’s work from the end of this year – on January 1st, 2012, to be precise. That date will mark the expiry of 70 years from the death of James Joyce, the term for copyright protection fixed by EU law.

In general, publications, performances, readings and adaptations of Joyce’s work will from that time on be possible without having to seek the permission of, or having to make a payment to, the much-feared James Joyce estate, at this stage controlled by the writer’s grandson Stephen Joyce, who is also its sole beneficiary.

Before getting carried away with this heady freedom, it is worth pausing for a moment to examine exactly what the new situation will be. Definitely to be freed from copyright are the writings that Joyce published during his lifetime, including of course the major works Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulyssesand Finnegans Wake.

There are two other categories of Joyce works where the picture is not so clear. One is writings by Joyce that were published posthumously. These publications include Stephen Heroand Giacomo Joyce. They also include many letters (though not all) and The James Joyce Archive, the big collection of Joyce manuscripts that was published in 1979. (The fact that these are manuscripts does not change the fact that they have been published in photostat.)

The other category of Joyce works are writings that have never been published. These include the big Léon collection of manuscripts that the National Library of Ireland acquired in 2002. It would also include the Joyce-Paul Léon correspondence that the library has held since 1941 but that was released only in 1992. This too remains unpublished. And there are many other manuscripts and letters in this category.

The status of both these categories is not clearly spelt out in the relevant Irish legislation, the Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000. Robert Spoo is a leading US copyright lawyer who also has a Joyce scholarly background (in a previous incarnation he was editor of the James Joyce Quarterly). He gives as his opinion, speaking in a purely personal capacity: “The text of the CRRA 2000 does not explicitly address the copyright term for works published after an author’s death or works by an individual author that remain unpublished. But it is clear that the CRRA 2000 effected significant changes in previous Irish copyright law, not least in placing a clear term limit on the copyrights of certain unpublished works, such as broadcasts and cable programmes. In my opinion, a persuasive argument can be mounted that in January 2012 copyrights in Joyce’s posthumously published works as well as in his still unpublished works expire in the Republic of Ireland.”

If Spoo is correct, and he stresses this is merely an opinion, then it is virtually a free-for-all in the work of James Joyce from 2012 in Ireland. One or two caveats may still be needed, however. Are letters “works”? Not really. Prospective publishers of such writings (especially those in the “unpublished” category – the case for the immunity of posthumously published writings seems a lot stronger) may still proceed with caution.

Intriguing questions also arise about “editions” of Joyce’s major works that were published posthumously, some with the approval of the Joyce estate, some without. It has often been alleged that the estate originally gave its approval to Hans Walter Gabler’s “corrected text” of Ulyssesof 1984 with a view to establishing a new copyright (the copyright notice reads “Reading text© 1984 The Trustees of the Estate of James Joyce”). The claim to a new copyright is apparently based on the amount of “new” (previously unpublished) material that the edition contains. Is that enough to justify a new copyright? The matter has never been tested, but anyone thinking of simply “lifting” the Gabler text might be well advised to think again. The same prudential considerations apply to Danis Rose’s “Reader’s Edition” of 1997, reissued in revised form in 2004.

The copyright notice for this work claims, inter alia, that “this edition” is copyright Danis Rose (not James Joyce or his descendants) 1997, 2004. Again, the status of this claim remains very unclear. Certainly Rose’s text contains plenty of “new” material, but the nature and sources of that material are highly controversial. Nevertheless, it would be a brave publisher who decided he or she was now entitled to reprint the Rose edition without so much as a by your leave. (It is not clear, incidentally, why any publisher would wish to anyway.)

Danis Rose’s and John O’Hanlon’s more recent edition of Finnegans Wakealso claims that “this edition” is copyright Danis Rose and John O’Hanlon, 2010. The question is whether anyone, other than the author and his heirs for the time legally allowed, can copyright the reading text of a new edition of any book – one can certainly copyright the editorial work that went into it. All in all, one could, in a worst case scenario, foresee certain legal eagles having a field day with some of this. (Predictably, efforts to contact the Joyce estate about this matter proved unsuccessful.)

None of this changes the fact that a great deal more freedom to play with the texts of James Joyce, to adapt them, to read them, to perform them, to edit them, will now be available. The copyright situation will be a major focus of discussion at the big James Joyce Symposium to be held in Dublin in June 2012, says the president of the International James Joyce Foundation, Prof Anne Fogarty of UCD, and the event will definitely feature performances that would previously have been impossible.

The National Library hopes to establish a permanent Joyce Museum at the Aula Maxima beside Newman House on St Stephen’s Green, with a good deal of digital and interactive content, according to its director, Fiona Ross. And there will be theatrical performances, both amateur and professional, of Joyce’s work (his only play, Exiles, will now be available), although the director of the Abbey Theatre, Fiach Mac Conghail, was “unavailable for interview” about any plans the theatre may have.

All in all, the lifting of copyright restrictions is bound to be a breath of fresh air.

Terence Killeen is Research Scholar, James Joyce Centre, Dublin

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