Saturday's New York Times had a nice article by Dinitia Smith about Carol Loeb Shloss's new biography Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake. While many books about Joyce have seen his daughter Lucia as a sad, rejected, madwoman in the attic, Shloss proves that Lucia, who was a brilliant author in her own right and a gifted dancer, was a muse to Joyce and an inspiration for Finnegan's Wake.
Smith describes how James Joyce's grandson, Stephen Joyce, used copyright claims to threaten Shloss and intimidate her publisher so as to force her to eviscerate her manuscript in order to remove quotes that the heir found objectionable. "I had to rewrite this book over and over again" she said. "The process of deleting things that had taken years to find out was just excruciating." Stephen Joyce has announced that there will be no permission granted for the forseeable future for quotation of Joyce's letters, and also removed material about his aunt from the National Library of Ireland.
Shloss had an open and shut fair use defense to Joyce's threats to sue her for copyright infringement, but publishers don't want a defense, even with pro bono counsel standing by. They want to stay clear of the litigation juggernaut, lest they be caught in its wake.
Think of this story the next time someone tells you that fair use is the down parka that will keep writers from being chilled by virtually limitless copyright terms and ever-expanding copyright scope. As my mother told me when I wanted to walk out in the street into moving traffic, "you may have the right of way, but it doesn't do you much good after you're run over."
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