The issue of copyright has been discussed here from time to time. For example, in February I mentioned that, even in 1841, Macaulay had wisely argued to the House of Commons that extending the term of copyright much beyond an author's lifetime was not an idea which was in the public interest.
The House of Commons then agreed with him, but later legislative bodies, in Europe and the USA, have taken a different view. And if politicians go on taking funds from companies which have a vested interest in making copyright last for ever, then we can expect that the term of copyright will steadily be increased further and further. This will greatly benefit the media companies' shareholders, and those who control writers' estates, but it won't do much for anyone else.
I am reminded of all this by a post by Michael Schaub on Bookslut. James Joyce died in 1941, but, thanks to the politicians of this world, his work is still in copyright. The Joyce estate is now controlled by one Stephen Joyce (the great man's grandson), and Stephen Joyce is, in his small way, also famous. The following story shows why.
An academic who has devoted years of his life to studying the work of James Joyce, and is a recognised expert in the field, recently applied to Stephen Joyce for permission to quote from Ulysses. Stephen demanded a fee of $1.5 million, and told the academic: 'You should consider a new career as a garbage collector in New York City, because you’ll never quote a Joyce text again.' The full story is contained in an article in the New Yorker.
What a charming fellow Stephen is. And how clearly this incident demonstrates that the public interest in literature is best served by extending the term of copyright steadily towards infinity.