Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Forcing others to let you use their property

Stanford Professor Sues Joyce's Estate

A Stanford University professor on Monday sued James Joyce's estate for refusing to give her permission to use copyrighted material about the "Ulysses" author and his daughter on her Web site.

In the lawsuit, Carol Shloss, an acting English professor and Joycean scholar, challenged the estate's assertion that she would be infringing on its ownership of Joyce's image by quoting his published works, manuscripts and private letters on her scholarly site.

Instead, Shloss accused Joyce's grandson, Stephen James Joyce, and estate trustee, Sean Sweeney, of destroying papers, improperly withholding access to copyrighted materials and intimidating academics to protect the Joyce family name.
So in fact, the lawsuit has little to do with the "fair use" portion of U.S. copyright law. What this professor wants is that a court force Joyce's heirs to turn over their private property.

The family cannot prevent Shloss from making scholarly quotations, since those are "fair use," but even the most broad interpretation of "fair use" cannot compel copyright owners to make physical materials available, no matter how many times they've been published. If the family wants to destroy this and that, or lock them up for perpetuity, it is their right to dispose of their private property as they wish. It doesn't matter if they do it to protect the memory of a family member or for the sheer fun of it. The papers are theirs to do with as they please, and Shloss will have to be content with the quality of whatever previously published materials she can find. I personally know how hard it is in scholarly writing to cite something when you have it only through something else that cited it. Second-hand citations are the academic version of hearsay and a definite no-no.

Through what her lawyer said, Shloss sounds like Bruce Maddox on the Star Trek: TNG episode "The Measure of a Man": "Rights! Rights! I'm sick to death of hearing about rights! What about my right not to have my life work subverted by blind ignorance?" What Picard should have countered with, and what Shloss needs to learn, is that whatever rights you have do not require others to facilitate them.

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