Monday, June 12, 2006

The Power of the Estate (UPDATED)

This week's New Yorker has a fascinating article by D.T. Max about James Joyce's grandson, Stephen Joyce, who rules the Joyce estate with an iron fist. Max reports that, among other things, Stephen has "attempted to block the publication of dozens of scholarly works" and "rejects nearly every request to quote from unpublished letters." Given how soft a concept "fair use" is, "Joyceans are often unsure if they are violating the law, and when the estate objects they usually give in." One scholar who had a run in with the estate over her biography of James Joyce's mentally troubled daughter is now planning a lawsuit, with the pro bono help of Stanford law professor/IP rock star Lawrence Lessig. Lessig believes it will be the first time a literary estate has been sued on a theory of "copyright misuse." Judge Posner, guest-blogging at Lessig's blog, discussed the misuse theory here.

UPDATE: The lawsuit is on.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Lessig blogs about the suit here, including a link to the complaint.