A Moron In A Hurry

June 13, 2006

A Portrait of the Artist as a Copyright Villain

Filed under: copyright — nick @ 6:11 pm

I am not likely to die of bashfulness but neither am I prepared to be crucified to attest the perfection of my art. I dislike to hear of any stray heroics on the prowl for me.
~ James Joyce, explaining to his brother the balance of pride and practicality that governed the public side of his career as a writer.

Carol Schloss, a Stanford professor of English, has filed suit against the estate of James Joyce challenging its assertion that her scholarly work on Joyce would amount to copyright infringement:

Shloss accused Joyce's grandson, Stephen James Joyce, and estate trustee, Sean Sweeney, of destroying papers, improperly withholding access to copyrighted materials and intimidating academics to protect the Joyce family name.

Traditionally, copyright laws provide an exemption for academic or scholarly research when the use of copyright work is at issue – such is considered fair use – which is what is happening here:

The dispute centers on Shloss' research for "Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake," her 2003 book that posited James Joyce's mentally ill daughter was the muse behind "Finnegans Wake," his last novel. Published in 1939 and filled with Joyce's trademark puns and impenetrable prose, "Finnegans Wake" traces human history through the life of an Irish everyman and his family.

Lucia Joyce, who first was committed to a mental hospital at age 25, died in 1982 at age 75. Shloss maintains in her book that Lucia Joyce's inspiration is woven throughout "Finnegans Wake," but says in her lawsuit that the Joyce family has labored to excise any public or academic mention of the woman.

Stephen James Joyce's, James' grandson who now controls the estate, has an article describing his abusive treatment of academics in this week's New Yorker. His stance is to be critical of acadamia, generally questioning its worth and its motives to expose his family's private affairs:

As I got older, I realized Joyce is not the difficult writer they say he is,” he said. “When they say, ‘We’ve done so much for him,’ I think, What about the thousands, not to say millions, of readers they scared off? All this crap they write—that’s good old American slang!”

The article also lays out the background to the lawsuit, with Lawrence Lessig provding a bit of commentary on the case. In fact, his name is at the top of the complaint, which can be read here, and is being brought by Stanford Law's Center for Internet and Society.

It's a fascinating case, with some legitimate claims brought forth by Joyce's Estate. Unfortunately, while one may share sympathy with the Joyce Estate, it's really a matter of whether the law backs up its claims, which as written probably don't to the extent that it wishes. Read the New Yorker article, as it explains the conflict like no other, until I can digest the complaint and cover it more thoroughly.  William Patry has some further analysis of the case, as well as further readings on this area.

Essentially though, if Schloss's use isn't fair use, then I'm not sure what is.



  1. […] Here is an interesting look from Plagiarism Today on how the US and Europe deal with the moral rights of creators and how the US lags behind.  Moral rights concern the personal and reputational value of a work to its creator as opposed to traditional copyright rights that protect a work’s monetary aspects.  This issue of moral rights seems especially relevant to the James Joyce lawsuit recently reported on. […]

    Pingback by A Moron In A Hurry » A Moral Country with Lax Moral Rights — June 13, 2006 @ 7:28 pm

  2. very nice blog!mary

    Comment by Blogs, news and more! — January 10, 2007 @ 9:21 pm

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