common as air


The absurdity of the copyright extension increases the deeper we look into time. Holinshed died only thirty-six years before Shakespeare died, and the distance between the publication of his account of the Scottish regicide and the initial production of Macbeth was less than two decades. Holinshed’s estate could have stopped Will cold, exacting a price and a shared credit that very likely would have inclined him to turn his attention elsewhere. Surely, at this late date, Stephen Sondheim ought to have the same right to compose a musical about Gatsby, which is now more than a third as old as the Constitution that engendered limited copyright protection. Hyde devotes a passage to the familiar horrors unleashed by James Joyce’s malevolent seventy-eight-year-old grandson, Stephen James Joyce, who having no talent of his own has devoted his life and fortune to minimizing his grandfather’s place in the commons. When Ulysses is finally liberated, a great cheer will go up, and in no time at all we will have a more definitive text and competing annotated editions. The only annotated Ulysses at present is the Oxford World’s Classics paperback, which uses the now unprotected 1922 Sylvia Beach edition, and even that can’t be sold legally in the United States. (See previous reference to Amazon UK.) What kind of commons have we fortressed when a novelist could be sued several times over for writing a story in which Jake Barnes, Millicent Bloom, and Mickey Mouse indulge in a three-way at 7 Eccles Street, entangled on a bedsheet reproduction of Matisse’s Le Bonheur de vivre (photo provided), while George and Ira Gershwin’s greatest hits (lyrics provided) play on the radio.

more from Gary Giddins at Bookforum here.