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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Joyce in Public (Domain, that is)

2012 marks a number of important milestones related to the Rosenbach; not only is it the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and Charles Dickens's 200th birthday, but on January 1st, 2012, significant portions of the Joyce oeuvre entered the public domain.

Copyright is a tricky thing and the laws vary by country, but for many countries author's life + 70 is a critical threshold. James Joyce died on January 13, 1941, but for legal purposes all copyright holders are considered to have died at the end of the year in which they actually shuffled off this mortal coil and so copyright status changes on January 1st of the following year, in this case 2012.

In the U.S., life+70 marks the copyright expiration on unpublished works, which means that Joyce's letters, manuscripts and other material that was not published posthumously will now be in the public domain. Published materials are more complicated. Copyright on works published before 1977 is usually based on the date of publication + 95, with all items published prior to 1923 being automatically in public domain, so some of Joyce's published books are public domain, while others are still protected.

In the EU (including Joyce's native Ireland) works published during the author's lifetime expire at life+70 which means that that texts like Dubliners, Finnegans Wake, and Ulysses are now public domain there.

The various copyright expirations are a boon to Joycean scholars and also to public Bloomsday celebrations, which in Ireland and other European locales have been hampered by the notoriously tight restrictions placed by the Joyce Estate.

I'm neither a Joycean or a copyright lawyer, so to find out more, check out these links:

"The Injustice Collector" ( 2006 New Yorker piece about the Joyce Estate)
Irish news coverage of copyright lifting (from RTE news, with video)
Status of Joyce published works in different countries (from the Joyce Foundation at Ohio State)
Status of Joyce unpublished works in different countries (from the Joyce Foundation at Ohio State)
U.S. copyright cheat sheet (from Cornell)

If your interest is piqued, this year's Bloomsday exhibition will focus on the copyright and legal questions surrounding Joyce's work--more details to follow as we get closer to June 16.

I will leave you with this wonderful "Public Domain Day" video from our friends over at Ulysses Seen







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