Stephen Joyce scuppers readings

by Suw on June 10, 2004

Stephen Joyce, James Joyce's grandson and last remaining relative, has pulled the plug on readings of Ulysses which had been planned to celebrate the centenary of Bloomsday (16 June – the day on which the events in Ulysses take place). He declared that 'any public reading of what is regarded as the most influential novel of the 20th century will be a breach of copyright and cannot go ahead without permission and payment'. Via Neil Gaiman.
Gaiman likes the idea of being able to support his children and grandchildren from beyond the grave, and I can understand why he would. It's a nice thought that the stuff you do now might put food on your descendants' tables. But although it's a nice thought, is it really justified?
Only with copyright – and only since the extension of the copyright term – do originators get to feed their children and their children's children at, one could argue, the expense of the public. So Granddad Joyce has been dead since 1941, but Grandson Joyce gets to tell people they can't read from Ulysses – in celebration of the content of Ulysses – unless they pay him first.
What a lucky accident of birth. I don't get to earn money from the work my Dad or my Granddad did, although I suspect I'd be worth a small fortune if I could demand a percentage of all QEII cruise ticket sales.
Oh well, guess I'll have to stick to working for a living instead.
UPDATE: Funferal, Lessig and Cory were all way ahead of me, by some wide margin. Funferal's post particularly is worth reading.

Anonymous June 10, 2004 at 8:33 pm

I think the only proper response to this would be for the people who would normally attend one of these readings to show up at their appointed times and places with copies of Ulysses, and simulataneously read the passages that would have been read aloud. To themselves. In silence. I think that would be a neat protest.

Anonymous June 10, 2004 at 8:48 pm

Now, that is a chuffin' good idea. Wish I had thought of it.

Anonymous June 10, 2004 at 8:54 pm

Hmm, I suppose that he didn't think that if he let the readings go ahead on a day that will receive world wide attention that it might inspire more people to go out and buy the book, thus producing more royalties? I don't suppose he considered that he is pissing on one huge bloody great FREE advertisment for his grandfather's work?
If people all over the country wanted to read an extract from one of my books in public (supposing I had, like, had one published) I would consider it a fantastic marketing coup.

Anonymous June 10, 2004 at 9:45 pm

Good call!

Anonymous June 10, 2004 at 9:46 pm

Exactly! You know, it was hard to write that post without using the words 'money-grabbing', 'weasely', or 'control-freak'.

Anonymous June 11, 2004 at 12:08 am

Only with copyright – and only since the extension of the copyright term – do originators get to feed their children and their children's children at, one could argue, the expense of the public.
Suw, I think you're pushing here.
I'm a distant acquaintance of someone who is on a list as the twelfth richest man in the world: his family owns Levi Jeans. He gets a couple of pennies for each pair of levis that gets sold. Are you suggesting that, on the creator of a company's death that Microsoft, MacDonalds or Levis (for example) should be disbanded or given to the public? (You can if you like; but I think it's a fair analogy.)
Also, in the UK copyright law has extended beyond a writer's death since at least the 1911 copyright act (which set the term of copyright as life plus 25 years). It's certainly not a newfangled thing.

Anonymous June 11, 2004 at 12:13 am

(According to the 1911 copyright act actually was life plus 50 years).

Anonymous June 11, 2004 at 11:20 am

I don't think that intellectual property is the same as other properties, including business and physical, and I am not convinced that a direct comparison is valid.
If I buy a pair of Levis, no one can tell me how or where to wear them. If I sew things on to them, cut bits out of them, dye them or in other ways change them, then that's up to me. No one can tell me that I can't do that because I *own* them. If I want to, I can then sell them on and make money on my altered second-hand clothes, and that's all perfectly legal.
If I buy a copy of Ulysses and want to do a public reading, I can't. I've bought the book, but I have to obtain permission to do anything with it and, what's worse, there's no way to appeal if I believe the Joyce estate's decision is wrong. Now, the Joyce estate doesn't make money out of readings, so I'm actually not having an impact on their earnings, but yet they have total control over whether I can read in public or not.
There's far more control over intellectual property than physical property.
Also, it is obvious that I am not suggesting that M$ or Levis disband upon the death of the founder, because the company is not the person. The company is a legal entity that is distinct from the founder, and the founder's family. If the company fails, no more money will flow to your friend because no more sales will occur. Unless your friend is involved in the management of the company, he has no say in what happens in the company. He certainly can't control what happens to the jeans when they have been sold.
However, with copyright, the offspring of the originator need not be involved at all with the actual risk of publishing the material. If a publisher wants to do a new edition of Ulysses, they have to get permission. If that is granted, then the publisher gets to shoulder all of the financial burden for creating that new edition. If that edition doesn't sell, the publisher shoulders the debt too. Either way, they will have to pay the Joyce estate for the opportunity to take that risk. Joyce's grandson need to nothing at all bar give or deny permission – he has total control.
Well, you could argue that at least the publisher stands a chance of earning some money from someone else's work, so there should be recompense. I'm not arguing with that principle, but I do question whether such a long term of copyright is actually justified. Who benefits from Stephen Joyce's control of Ulysses? Not James, that's for sure. Not us. The Joyce estate has been granted a monopoly by the state and such monopolies should not result in the public losing out. In this case, clearly, the public are losing out.
Levi are controlled by the market. If they screw up, and people stop buying, then that's the end of Levi and the end of any money going to your friend.
Joyce's monopoly is granted by the state. The market has no impact on that, so it's not balanced by market forces.
As regards whether the ability to feed your offspring via copyright is newfangled, well, iirc copyright has its origins in 1500s Venice. Unfortunately, they slightly overdid the rights they were granting and rapidly discovered that a system wherein one person can copyright 'maths' is a system that's just not gonna fly.
In 1710 after the Statute of Anne, UK copyright was for 14 years only, renewable for 14 more years if the author was still alive. In the 1769 the publishers demanded that copyright be forever, and their demands were granted. In 1774 that decision was overturned. Copyright was limited in scope and term.
With regard to the US: In 1831 the term went up to a maximum of 42 years. Then in 1909 it went up to 56 (28 years initial term, plus 28 if the author renewed). But over the last 40 years, term has been extended 11 times, the key renewals being 1976 when it went up to life plus 50 with no need to renew, and the Sonny Bono copyright term extension act in 1998 which gives life plus 70.
In the UK, of course, we were far faster to the jump than the US. Copyright was extended from the limits set out under the Statute of Anne of 14 years plus 14 if you renewed to 42 years from publication or life plus 7, whichever was longer. Then, yes, 1911 it becomes life plus 50. In 1995 it became life plus 70.
I suppose really whether or not this is 'new' depend on how you define 'new'. I would say that this issue of control of culture is relatively new.

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