An Open Reply to PZ on Copyright

Louis Zukofsky (LZ) is the author of the very long, sometimes difficult, yet always amazing “A”. LZ died in 1978 and his son, Paul Zukofsky (PZ), owns the copyright in all of his father’s works.

Anyone interested in LZ’s poetry will likely stumble upon PZ’s open letter to the poetry community concerning copyright. In this letter, PZ asserts that any and all quotation from LZ requires express permission from PZ as the copyright holder. But the law does not support PZ’s position. I hope that this post will help prevent PZ from further chilling legitimate scholarship and commentary.

In his statement, PZ makes it plain that he does not like the concept of fair use. He writes:

Despite what you may have been told, you may not use LZ’s words as you see fit, as if you owned them, while you hide behind the rubric of “fair use”. “Fair use” is a very-broadly defined doctrine, of which I take a very narrow interpretation, and I expect my views to be respected. We can therefore either more or less amicably work out the fees that I demand; you can remove all quotation; or we can turn the matter over to lawyers, this last solution being the worst of the three, but one which I will use if I need to enforce my rights.

In case anyone has any doubt, PZ’s “narrow interpretation” of fair use has no impact on the law. It is well-settled that the views of the copyright holder are not relevant to the contours of fair use. See Campbell v. Acuff–Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 585 n.18 (1994) (“being denied permission to use a work does not weigh against a finding of fair use”). Indeed, the possibility that a copyright holder will prevent scholarship and comment is precisely why fair use is essential.

You may think that PZ should encourage scholarship because it promotes his father’s work. PZ strongly disagrees:

I can applaud your desire to obtain a job, any job, although why in your chosen so-called profession is quite beyond me; but one line you may not cross i.e. never never ever tell me that your work is to be valued by me because it promotes my father. Doing that will earn my life-long permanent enmity.

PZ is entitled to believe that literary scholarship is a waste of time. But, once again, his personal view about scholarship has no impact on the law. Within the contours of fair use, scholars are entitled to write about, and quote from, LZ just as they would from any other writer.

PZ’s stance on fair use is reminiscent of the stance of the Estate of James Joyce. PZ might do well to consider how that turned out for the Estate.

There are lawyers, including the Fair Use Project and others, who help defend against meritless infringement claims. If you believe that your scholarship or research has been impeded because of claims by PZ, please feel free to contact us.


Can you give some examples of the difficult and amazing work of Mr. Zukofsky? It seems that would make your post more clear.

Add new comment