Thursday, October 06, 2005

Copyright & Google Again

I’m beginning to write an essay for a book on how to teach Mrs. Dalloway (it will be part of the MLA’s Approaches to Teaching series. And, in looking at the preface to Approaches to Teaching Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, I found one of the best explanations of why current copyright law works against scholars, teachers, students, and common readers:
Originally slated to come out of copyright in 2002, seventy-five years after publication, To the Lighthouseis no under copyright in the United States until 2022, in conformity with the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act….In England,…Woolf’s works went into the public domain [briefly] (1992-95)….In Canada, Woolf’s works are now out of copyright.

Virginia Woolf died in 1941. Her husband died in 1960. They had no heirs. Keeping her work in copyright until 2022 insures huge profits for her U.S. publisher, Harcourt who has—and will have--no competition.

Capitalizing on the success of The Hours, Harcourt hastily published a Mrs. Dalloway Reader. It was sloppily researched and full of misleading information. Material written long after the novel was presented in the Reader as if it were a prelude and there was little in the way of information to lead a curious reader to accurate sources on Woolf’s life, writing, and works. To their credit, Harcourt responded to a letter from a group of Woolf scholars and published a corrected volume. And, out of the same protest, Harcourt learned that teachers wanted annotated editions of Woolf’s novels—not cumbersome ones, but the kind that help undergraduates or people reading on their own get a foothold on some basic facts about London in the 20s, etc. Now, they have actually published a nice, lightly annotated edition of Mrs. Dalloway. But Penguin and Oxford did their treatment to all of Woolf’s novels in 1992: for the past thirteen years, I have had those editions in my personal library but been unable to teach from them because I cannot order English books (and now they’re not available in England, either). I don’t see how copyright law serves anything but Harcourt. I don’t hate them nor am I broadly anti-corporation, but I think that the Copyright Extension Act is absurd.

Elsewhere,Over at Moorish Girl, guest writer Marcy Dermansky recommends a personal favorite of mine: Antonia White’s stunning, heartbreaking Frost in May. Read it!

and I recently earned a little money reviewing a book (a textbook) and sent 25% of it off to Book Relief: this seems like a great Katrina relief charity for readers. They’re working—with generous donations from publishers—to help children, schools, and libraries affected by the hurricane rebuild their personal libraries. Publishers are donating the books, so a mere fifty cents gets a book to a child.

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