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Joyce copyright lifted from tomorrow

The copyright on the works of James Joyce expires on 1 January 2012 – meaning that for the first time, his published and unpublished writings will be in the public domain.

A statue of James Joyce at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin
A statue of James Joyce at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin
Image: Niall Carson/PA Archive/Press Association Images

THE COPYRIGHT ON James Joyce’s works will be lifted in the EU on 1 January – 70 years after his death.

Up until tomorrow, anybody seeking to read any of the famed Irish author’s works in public, or to use excerpts from it, has had to seek permission from his grandson Stephen Joyce, who controls James Joyce’s estate.

He is the writer’s only living descendent, and is very protective of his grandfather’s works.

The restrictions even applied to Bloomsday events on 16 June, and 2012 will be the first year that the festival, which celebrates Joyce’s work, can use previously restricted works.

The copyright applies to all of Joyce’s works, such as Ulysses, Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

The term for copyright protection under EU law is 70 years from the death of the writer.

For Joyce fans, the exciting news is that it does not just apply to his published works – it also applies to his unpublished works, which may include manuscripts and correspondence held in the National Library of Ireland.

The copyright meant that academic Professor Carol Shloss faced a case in Californian courts to do with her book Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake, which explored the life of Joyce’s daughter with Nora Barnacle.

The Joyce estate told her she had to remove material from Joyce’s works from her book.

The case was settled in 2007 and meant that the Estate could not enforce their copyright against Shloss to quote excerpts from letters between Joyce and Lucia in the book.

But now, authors won’t face such consequences if they attempt to use any of Joyce’s work.

Earlier this year, Stacey Herbert, who co-ordinates the Bloomsday festival, told The Irish Times that part of the 2012 event will involve a flash mob performing each chapter from Ulysses.

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He isn’t the only author whose work will enter the public domain tomorrow – joining James Joyce this year are authors Virginia Woolf, Henri Bergson, Raffaello Bertieri, Alter Kacyzne, Jelly Roll Morton, Hugh Walpole and Robert Delanay, amongst others.

To mark the event, there is even a celebration called Public Domain Day, where people are invited to celebrate the works of their favourite authors who have entered the public domain on 1 January.

Entering the public domain means that permission to use their works does not have to be sought – and no money has to be paid to the owners of the works.

Works can be subject to rights in one country and not in another, and laws differ according to the country.

Other works that are the in public domain and used frequently? The patents on powered flight and the music of Beethoven.

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