The tug of war over Joyce copyright continues. The National Library of Ireland has just released digital copies of a collection of papers bought from Alexis Léon in 2002 for €12.6 million, in response to an attempted copyright coup by Danis Rose. The NLI’s holdings are a stunning collection of Joyceana, consisting of an early Paris notebook from 1903 and notes for a translation of Dante’s Inferno, as well as 500 manuscript pages and 200 pages of annotated proofs of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.
If it feels a bit like a rush job (the resolution isn’t great, though the NLI plan to publish better quality images to coincide with Bloomsday), that’s because it is. The NLI’s hand was forced when Rose released a six-volume edition of The Dublin Ulysses Papers earlier this year.
Rose (real name Denis O’Hanlon) is an academic Joycean gone rogue. In 1997 he published a ‘reader’s edition’ of Ulysses, cutting sections and making audacious editorial interventions that attracted the wrath of Stephen Joyce. His edition of Finnegans Wake met with some resistance, as did his identification of a group of early vignettes for the book as constituting a collection of ‘short stories’.
Rose asserts his rights over the material in the NLI by describing his role in its acquisition:
My second foray into the world of manuscript acquisition occurred when, at the turn of the Millennium, I was asked by Alexis Léon, the son of Joyce’s confidant and helpmate, Paul Léon, to identify the contents of a parcel of manuscripts he owned that had once belonged to his mother. With considerable alacrity I agreed and immediately boarded a plane for chez Léon. Not since Carter gazed into the tomb of Tutankhamen has a scholar experienced such tremors of the soul as I did on looking through the entire collection.
More prosaically, he observes:
In the EU there is a provision in law that the first to publish previously unpublished material entering the public domain acquires economic rights equivalent to copyright for a period of twenty five (25) years.
Positioning himself as the liberator of these unread texts, he goes on to warn:
it is perfectly possible – if not probable – that future and further exploitation/use of the Joyce materials would again be denied to European and in particular to Irish scholars, writers and artists if the first publisher, for whatever reason, chose to adopt a restrictive practice… Scholars, librarians, and artists, need have no such fears, as I consider that any such overarching rights as described above that I have acquired by virtue of the present first publication I temporarily hold in trust for them.
Yet Rose reacted badly to the NLI’s decision to adopt a completely unrestrictive access policy, calling it ‘unwise’ and ‘precipitate in the extreme’. In a letter to the Irish Times this week he wrote:
I stated very explicitly that it was my intention to pass over to the Irish State my newly acquired rights for the genuinely free use of these materials by the public (and not one subject to the approval of some panel).
By proceeding to publish these papers in digital image form, [the NLI] has effectively rejected my proposed gift by suggesting I have in fact nothing to give…
This whole affair exemplifies the problems that have long beset Ireland, where the prevailing attitude is to begrudge and prevent entrepreneurial endeavours of private citizens even when these stand to significantly benefit the public’s collective interests.
Quite how Rose can reconcile these ‘entrepreneurial endeavours’ with his earlier claims to intellectual and scholarly openness remains unclear. Prices for his edition range from €75 to €250. Anyone with an internet connection can look at the NLI material for free. The question of who if anyone owns the copyright in it won’t be resolved unless (or until) it goes to court.
In the Irish Times in 1943, Myles na gCopaleen introduced one of his ‘Keats and Chapman’ stories with a caveat:
Copyright in all civilised countries, also in ‘Eire’ and in the Sick Counties of Northern Ireland. Pat. Appd. For. The public is warned that copyright subsists in these epexegetic biographic addenda under warrant issued by the Ulster King of Farms (nach maireann) and persons assailing, invading or otherwise violating such rights of copy, which are in-alienable and indefeasible, will be liable to summary disintitulement in feodo without remembrances and petty sochemaunce pendent graund plaisaunce du roi.