April 30, 2012

National Irish Library staking its Joyce claim early


James Joyce manuscript page.

Interesting developments arise as James Joyce‘s work comes into the public domain. In reaction to the publication of a collection of unpublished Joyce manuscripts by scholar Danis Rose, and Rose’s subsequent claim that he is now the copyright holder in the EU of these manuscripts, the National Library of Ireland has announced their plans to publish this major collection of unpublished manuscripts for free on the web.

The director of the National Library, Fiona Ross, says in an Irish Times article, that plans to put the manuscripts online had been under way for some time. It is the first such collection of Joyce material to be open and available to the public in this manner. Danis Rose is selling these same works in editions that cost between €75 and €250 per volume or €800 for the entire series of six volumes.

According to the Times, “The collection includes notes and early drafts of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, as well as earlier notes by Joyce from between 1903 and 1928. Two of the notebooks include the earliest surviving sets of notes, and there are drafts of nine separate episodes of Ulysses. The handwriting in the manuscripts matches Joyce’s known handwriting from the different periods in his life and includes his use of coloured crayon lines and Xs through certain writing.”

Rose bases his claim to copyright on the assertion that he is the first person to publish these manuscripts in the EU. The Times report continues:

In a statement, he [Rose] says that in the EU, “there is a provision in law that the first person to publish previously unpublished material entering the public domain acquires economic rights equivalent to copyright for a period of 25 years”.

He says he temporarily holds these rights in trust for “scholars, librarians and artists”. He adds: “To make the situation explicit, I will make over to the Irish State such rights in the Joyce text in the Ulysses documents that I have acquired.”

….Ms Ross said the whole issue of copyright – not just in Joyce studies – was being examined by a copyright review committee set up by the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation.

Findings from this copyright review committee gave the National Library greater confidence in it’s position to go forward with putting the manuscripts online. It is believed that the current legislation will be emended to eliminate any ambiguities, and support the library’s position.

“The manuscripts in question were acquired by the National Library in 2002 for €12.6 million,” the Times reports, “Copyright in them remained with the James Joyce estate until the end of last year, when copyright protection (70 years from the death of the author) expired. However, there remained some doubt about the status of these unpublished manuscripts”


Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.