A James Joyce scholar is suing the Irish author's estate, claiming that it is abusing copyright law to prevent her from disseminating research findings that the estate wants to cover up. The case may clarify how much control copyright holders can exert over scholars seeking to take advantage of the law's fair-use exemption.
Researchers in several disciplines rely on the exemption, which permits scholars and students to use copyrighted material for scholarly and educational purposes without seeking permission from the copyright holders. But lawyers for colleges and publishers are sometimes reluctant to test it in court battles with copyright holders.
The scholar, Carol Loeb Shloss, is an acting professor of English at Stanford University. She has been feuding with Joyce's estate since 2002, when her book about the author's daughter, Lucia, was about to be published. In the book -- Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003) -- Ms. Shloss theorizes that Lucia, who was committed to an asylum, greatly influenced Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake. A character in the novel, Issy, is portrayed as a schizophrenic.
Ms. Shloss's book describes Lucia Joyce, who died in 1982, as a misunderstood genius and delves into her relationship with her father. Parts of the book also helped fuel a rumor among scholars that either Joyce or his son, Giorgio, engaged in incest with Lucia. Giorgio Joyce died in 1976, and his son, Stephen, is now an agent of the Joyce estate.
Before Ms. Shloss's book was published, Stephen Joyce suggested that if the book quoted from Lucia's medical records and other material about her, he might deny Ms. Shloss permission to quote from Joyce's works, published or unpublished. As a result, Farrar, Straus and Giroux cut from the book a number of passages by and about both James Joyce and his daughter.
Ms. Shloss subsequently got in touch with Lawrence Lessig, a well-known copyright lawyer who is also a law professor at Stanford University. Mr. Lessig encouraged Ms. Shloss to set up a Web site with material that was deleted from her book. The material includes excerpts from Joyce's published works and manuscripts, as well as portions of letters to, from, or about Joyce or his family.
Ms. Shloss's lawyers gave Joyce's estate advance notice of the Web site, and said the material could be included on it under copyright law's fair-use exemption. But the letter also said the estate could review the material before its publication online, according to the lawsuit.
A lawyer for the estate replied that the estate disapproved of the Web site. And on December 23, 2005, the estate told Ms. Shloss's lawyers that it "does not give its permission for your client's proposed activities and rejects the notion that the proposed use could be made in the absence of consent under the fair-use doctrine."
The Web site is currently available to only a handful of people involved in the case, but Ms. Shloss wants to make it public and is asking the court to declare that its content does not infringe the Joyce estate's copyrights because the material is a "transformative academic work" that is protected by the fair-use exemption.
Read more at Chronicle of Higher Education 6/15/06
Posted by P. Kaufman at June 15, 2006 8:37 AM