On June 12, 2006, the Stanford Center for Internet and Society’s Fair Use Project announced that they will be defending Carol Shloss in a law suit filed against the Estate of James Joyce. Shloss is a Joycean scholar who published Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake, which discusses the relationship between James Joyce and his daughter, Lucia and the influence this relationship had over his “acclaimed work of literature, Finnegans Wake.” In this case, Shloss is seeking the right to use “quotations from published and unpublished materials relating to James Joyce on a scholarly website about him.”

The lawsuit alleges that the Estate is notorious for filing suits against individuals who use Joyce’s work. A Stanford Law School press release states:

The lawsuit states that the Estate sued sponsors of a global Internet webcast reading of Ulysses that took place on Bloomsday 1998; that event was sponsored by the Prime Minister, the President, and other politicians in the Republic of Ireland. Further, the lawsuit contends that although the Estate does not hold copyright over medical records of Lucia Joyce and many letters relating to her, it has consistently leveraged the threat of denying permission to use James Joyce’s work if material relating to Lucia Joyce – of which the Estate does not approve – is published.

How ridiculous is this? The Fair Use section of the U.S. Copyright Act states that one of the factors to be considered “when determining whether the use of a work in any particular case is a fair use” is whether the purpose of use if for commercial or nonprofit educational purposes.” This case is considered to be a landmark case that will have significant implications for those in the academic field. Lawrence Lessig, the lead attorney for Shloss in this case, argued:

Her work is not the kind that copyright law seeks to prohibit. Instead it is the kind of scholarly, critical work that is protected, and that should always be protected, by fair use. We seek a clear statement from the court that such academic use of copyrighted materials is protected under fair use.

I can understand why copyright holders would want to protect their work from individuals who are only seeking commercial gain through the use of their material. I cannot understand, however, why they would fight against scholars’ use of this material. While the former is used for personal gain, the latter seeks to educate and inform the public. These Estates and their agents should be honored by the fact that renowned scholars, such as Shloss, are providing information that will further the public’s understanding of classic works of literature, art, and so forth. Scholars should be able to produce their work without the fear of being sued by Estates who interpret the law too narrowly.