Reading list: Without Copyrights

Robert Spoo, Without Copyrights: Piracy, Publishing, and the Public Domain: An engaging, detailed account of trade courtesy in the US before the US recognized foreign copyrights (including the period when foreign authors could in theory get a US copyright but faced nearly insuperable barriers in practice, especially if they were new/risky for publishers), and the struggles of modernist writers—primarily James Joyce—to claim rights despite the lack of legal foundation. I was most interested in the chapter on Joyce’s lawsuit against Samuel Roth for violating Joyce’s right of publicity by publishing his uncopyrighted works under his name—turns out copyright owners have been trying to leverage other rights for a long, long time. (Also, as Spoo points out, it’s no accident that unauthorized reprinters of Joyce using copyright’s boundaries aggressively also were the source of key obscenity precedents, since they were pushing other boundaries for at least in part ideological commitments to freedom).

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