Copyright As Censorship: After 22 Years, Joyce Estate Finally Lets Kate Bush Use Lyrics She Wanted

from the creativity? dept

It’s no secret that the James Joyce estate has been ridiculously overprotective when it comes to Joyce’s copyright. Of course, a lot of Joyce’s works are quickly approaching the public domain in various places (and some are already there), and so the estate may be losing its control. Still, it’s nice to see that the estate finally “agreed” to one usage. Glyn Moody points us to the news that after an astounding 22 years of asking, singer Kate Bush has finally been allowed to use Molly Bloom?s famous soliloquy from Ulysses as lyrics for a song. She had first asked in 1989… and was denied. She wrote different lyrics instead, but kept asking the estate. Perhaps realizing that (in the UK) the work was going into the public domain next year, the estate finally relented.

Of course, the copyright defenders always claim that cases like this are someone being “uncreative” and “just copying” works. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them argue that the world is better off because Bush was forced to come up with her own alternative lyrics. But if the song is really better off using Joyce’s prose as lyrics here, doesn’t that mean that the world was cut off from this cultural work for 22 years? Doesn’t that seem like a problem from a cultural perspective? Especially for a law that’s supposed to encourage more and better creative output? When, instead, it’s used to censor that kind of creative output, shouldn’t we all be concerned about what copyright is doing to culture?

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Comments on “Copyright As Censorship: After 22 Years, Joyce Estate Finally Lets Kate Bush Use Lyrics She Wanted”

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18 Comments
Anonymoussays:

Its worse than that really. In my experience, with easy access to, well, just about any music, I’ve found that my entertainment choices shift extremely quickly. While I may have an Ipod full of dubstep today, tomorrow it may be full of new jazz artists. I think it would be difficult to relate to something I -may- have enjoyed 22 years ago. If I listened now, as good or powerful as the song may be, the likely response would be “oh thats good” and I’d forget about it. The emotional impact would be nil.

If Kate Bush had any gumption

If Kate Bush had any gumption she would have used the fricking soliloquy in the first place – and invited the Joyce estate to send her to prison for preparing/singing/recording/performing/distributing an unauthorised derivative.

No doubt it’s more a case of being financially persuaded by her copyright exploiting record label to be patient.

If copyright forbids certain art – unauthorised derivatives – then we can divide singers/songwriters into those who produce copyright protected works and artists who produce art. In other words ‘copyright supporting/respecting artist’ is a contradiction in terms.

Not an Electronic Rodentsays:

Re: If Kate Bush had any gumption

If Kate Bush had any gumption she would have used the fricking soliloquy in the first place

Hmm because everybody deliberately invites a lawsuit, right? I know it would be my idea of fun to spend a year arguing with lawyers and almost certainly losing because of the way the law is written and spending a fortune doing so….

Perhaps the “gumption” in question would have been better aimed at spending the same money she’d have spent on a pointless lawsuit to lobby to have the stupid law changed… or maybe just use it to come up with an give-away album full of songs about what a bunch of asshats the rightsholders for James Joyce were?

Anonymoussays:

Re: If Kate Bush had any gumption

If copyright forbids certain art – unauthorised derivatives – then we can divide singers/songwriters into those who produce copyright protected works and artists who produce art. In other words ‘copyright supporting/respecting artist’ is a contradiction in terms.

We already have that distinction: ‘pop “music”‘ and its derivatives (pop country, pop rock, etc.); and ‘music’.

Not an Electronic Rodentsays:

While it may inspire creativity in that she has to come up with her own lyrics, couldn’t the argument be made that using something like this in a song, a different medium than a book, showcase that work in a different light? Could it take on new life or even new meaning?

Except all that is irrelevant to the copyright holder. They are only usually interested in either a/ CASH (especially if the holder is a corporation) or b/ Some idea of “protecting” the thing in case “terrible things are done with it” (in the case of a family or the original creator). The idea of the new meaning of a derivative work doesn’t seem to occur to most rightsholders, or the content probably wouldn’t have been copyrighted in the first place and certainly has no meaning to a corporation unless they can make money out of it (usually yours for een thinking about something they “own”.

It always seems to come down to “my idea not yours” for the creator or “my control and MONEY” not yours for other rightsholders. That’s fine for a while I suppose but when you’re talking about perhaps 130+ YEARS of that it seems a little excessive doesn’t it?

Of course as medical technology gets exponentially better it’s entirely possible that even without further extensions the copyright period will effectively be “As long as the United States of America has currently existed” After all, that’s only doubling lifespan and it’s already more than done that once since the US was founded. Sounds reasonable, no?

dpatacsays:

Star Trek

There would have been a vacuum of Star Trek without its quotes from Shakespeare:

http://www.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/shakespeare/star.trek.html

Whether you like Trek or not, the quotes connected the series to real life and quite often were a way to bring deeper meaning to the storyline.

So would the original Star Trek, a short 2 year series – that continues to be reinvented, still have the cult following without these references had copyright been claimed as in the case above?

Anonymoussays:

Re: Star Trek

Whether you like Trek or not, the quotes connected the series to real life and quite often were a way to bring deeper meaning to the storyline.

Yeah that’s the funny thing about culture versus copyright. The more memorable or popular (and therefore arguably “valuable”) a particular phrase or passage of language is the more likely it is to be quoted and adopted by society as part of its culture whether the “rightsholder” wills or not. Trying to stop that and “control” the language is like trying to nail down water.

mike allensays:

i am certain it would have given new life to a literary work in music which has happened many times in the past. I example war of the worlds
Desiderata
even the ugly duckling poem
have been put to music and brought new life to the original works.

However it could be argued that 20 years ago it would have worked it may not today.

mikezsays:

Funny, i remember reading On The Road for the first time when I was 19 years old. Keroac spoke a lot about Billie Holiday and quoted the lyrics from Loverman in the book. It was that passage that made me go out and buy a large part of Billie’s catalog and made me a fan. I bet Keroac didn’t have to ask permission to use the lyrics.

Having also been a fan of Kate Bush, I’m sure if she used the lyrics and attributed them, as she would have in her liner notes, many, many people would have gone out to investigate the works of Joyce.

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