Midnight on December 31st will bring two reasons for some to raise a glass to copyright.
In the first place copyright expires in Ireland in James Joyce’s published works, freeing them of the shackles of Stephen Joyce’s oppressive literary stewardship. There are lots of Stephen Joyce stories, but a good example is the case he took against Cork University Press in 2000. CUP had sought Joyce’s permission to publish extracts from Ulysses in an important anthology of the works of more than 300 Irish authors – Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century, A Reader. Joyce wanted a licence fee of €7000. This amounted to half the budget for licence fees for the entire publication. So CUP sought out instead an extract from Joycean scholar Danis Rose’s unauthorised version of Ulysses, believing that it benefitted from a window of opportunity for works created before the term of copyright was extended by EU Directive. Joyce sought and obtained a High Court injunction against CUP, restraining publication of the anthology. The book was already printed and in the warehouse. CUP had to take a blade and cut out the extracts from Ulysses before sending it out for distribution. Yeats and Beckett, Heaney and Kavanagh were there but Joyce appeared only in the index of this important reference work.
However, the coast is not entirely clear. While Joyce’s published works go out of copyright, it appears that works unpublished at his death do not. This is because a section of the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2001 seems to preserve the effect of a provision in the Copyright Act of 1963 which stated that the copyright term for literary works unpublished at the authors death was 50 years from the date of publication. So, for as long as the work remained unpublished, the copyright term was potentially perpetual. The 1963 Act was modelled on the UK Copyright Act of 1956, which had a similar provision. The problem was addressed in the UK in 1988, by giving affected works a finite term of protection, expiring in 2039. It is accepted in the UK that Joyce’s unpublished works fall into this category. In Ireland there is still something of a struggle in relation to the issue but a growing recognition that the problem is a real one. In a piece in the Irish Times earlier this year, the problem was acknowledged by US academic and board member of the National Library of Ireland, Robert Spoo. So, for those who have enjoyed Sephen Joyce’s antics, the fun and games may not be over.
Visual artists and their families will also have reason to celebrate. From January 1st the Irish Government is obliged by EU Directive to extend the artists resale right to their heirs. The right is already enjoyed by living artists. It entitles visual artists to a proportion of the sale price of their works, subsequent to the first sale. It is regarded as putting artists on a similar footing to other creators, all of whom enjoy royalties during their lives and for 70 years after death. It is also seen as compensating to some degree for the fact that artists earn so little in the early part of their careers. The addition of heirs will add considerable value to the right. The highest prices by far for works of Irish art are achieved for the likes of Paul Henry, Jack Yeats and some others still in copyright, and whose values are holding up surprisingly well in the current recession.