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The names of James Joyce and Ezra Pound ring out in the annals of literary modernism, but few recognize the name of Samuel Roth. A brash, business-savvy entrepreneur, Roth made a name--and a profit--for himself as the founding editor and owner of magazines that published selections from foreign writings--especially the risqu� parts--without permission. When he reprinted The names of James Joyce and Ezra Pound ring out in the annals of literary modernism, but few recognize the name of Samuel Roth. A brash, business-savvy entrepreneur, Roth made a name--and a profit--for himself as the founding editor and owner of magazines that published selections from foreign writings--especially the risqu� parts--without permission. When he reprinted segments of James Joyce's epochal novel Ulysses, the author took him to court. Without Copyrights tells the story of how the clashes between authors, publishers, and literary "pirates" influenced both American copyright law and literature itself. From its inception in 1790, American copyright law offered no or less-than-perfect protection for works published abroad--to the fury of Charles Dickens, among others, who sometimes received no money from vast sales in the United States. American publishers avoided ruinous competition with each other through "courtesy of the trade," a code of etiquette that gave informal, exclusive rights to the first house to announce plans to issue an uncopyrighted foreign work. The climate of trade courtesy, lawful piracy, and the burdensome rules of American copyright law profoundly affected transatlantic writers in the twentieth century. Drawing on previously unknown legal archives, Robert Spoo recounts efforts by James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Bennett Cerf--the founder of Random House--and others to crush piracy, reform U.S. copyright law, and define the public domain. Featuring a colorful cast of characters made up of frustrated authors, anxious publishers, and willful pirates, Spoo provides an engaging history of the American public domain, a commons shaped by custom as much as by law, and of piracy's complex role in the culture of creativity.


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The names of James Joyce and Ezra Pound ring out in the annals of literary modernism, but few recognize the name of Samuel Roth. A brash, business-savvy entrepreneur, Roth made a name--and a profit--for himself as the founding editor and owner of magazines that published selections from foreign writings--especially the risqu� parts--without permission. When he reprinted The names of James Joyce and Ezra Pound ring out in the annals of literary modernism, but few recognize the name of Samuel Roth. A brash, business-savvy entrepreneur, Roth made a name--and a profit--for himself as the founding editor and owner of magazines that published selections from foreign writings--especially the risqu� parts--without permission. When he reprinted segments of James Joyce's epochal novel Ulysses, the author took him to court. Without Copyrights tells the story of how the clashes between authors, publishers, and literary "pirates" influenced both American copyright law and literature itself. From its inception in 1790, American copyright law offered no or less-than-perfect protection for works published abroad--to the fury of Charles Dickens, among others, who sometimes received no money from vast sales in the United States. American publishers avoided ruinous competition with each other through "courtesy of the trade," a code of etiquette that gave informal, exclusive rights to the first house to announce plans to issue an uncopyrighted foreign work. The climate of trade courtesy, lawful piracy, and the burdensome rules of American copyright law profoundly affected transatlantic writers in the twentieth century. Drawing on previously unknown legal archives, Robert Spoo recounts efforts by James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Bennett Cerf--the founder of Random House--and others to crush piracy, reform U.S. copyright law, and define the public domain. Featuring a colorful cast of characters made up of frustrated authors, anxious publishers, and willful pirates, Spoo provides an engaging history of the American public domain, a commons shaped by custom as much as by law, and of piracy's complex role in the culture of creativity.

46 review for Without Copyrights: Piracy, Publishing, and the Public Domain

  1. 4 out of 5

    Fredrick Danysh

    Without Copyrights examines the legal history of copyright laws and practices as well as the growth and guidelines for public domain. While written by a lawyer, it would be worth while reading for any one who writes or aspires to write at any level.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    Spoo delves into the history of U.S. Copyright Law specifically focusing on the lack of protection for foreign authors prior to the United States signing on to the Berne Convention. He particularly focuses on the late 1800s and early 1900s when the lack of laws or convoluted laws that left little protection allowed the works of foreign authors to enter the public domain in the United States and thus be published against the authors' wishes and/or without remuneration to them. He focuses Spoo delves into the history of U.S. Copyright Law specifically focusing on the lack of protection for foreign authors prior to the United States signing on to the Berne Convention. He particularly focuses on the late 1800s and early 1900s when the lack of laws or convoluted laws that left little protection allowed the works of foreign authors to enter the public domain in the United States and thus be published against the authors' wishes and/or without remuneration to them. He focuses particularly on Ezra Pound and James Joyce in their fight against this practice and the story of Samuel Roth who attempted to profit from the loopholes in the copyright law but who was going against the established publishing customs of the time that attempted to make up for the lack of legal standing of foreign authors. If you are at all interested in copyright law its a fascinating read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Janice Liedl

    This is an excellent work that puts the American law of copyright into a long, thoughtful and clearly-expressed historical perspective. I finished this book with a much better understanding of the complicated international situation as well as the perspectives of authors, publishers and others involved in the copyright question. If you read this, you'll see how nineteenth and early twentieth-century American copyright was all about protecting the interests of American publishers who scrambled for This is an excellent work that puts the American law of copyright into a long, thoughtful and clearly-expressed historical perspective. I finished this book with a much better understanding of the complicated international situation as well as the perspectives of authors, publishers and others involved in the copyright question. If you read this, you'll see how nineteenth and early twentieth-century American copyright was all about protecting the interests of American publishers who scrambled for saleable materials, often pirating European authors who faced great difficulties in meeting the requirement for American copyright. It's a real eye-opener for anyone who assumes that copyright in the USA was ever legislated or enforced in the interests of creators or the public because this volume proves quite the contrary.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Parker

    It sure took me a long time to read this book! Well, the first half took me maybe 5 weeks of on-again-off-again reading a few pages at a time, and then the second halfcovering Joyce v. Roth, US v. One Book Entitled "Ulysses", and a crash course through the Roth and Miller obscenity standards and Eldred and GolanI devoured in two days. I read a lot of books about copyright, and I like works that challenge societal assumptions that may be 30 years old, or 120 years old, or 300 years old. This one It sure took me a long time to read this book! Well, the first half took me maybe 5 weeks of on-again-off-again reading a few pages at a time, and then the second half—covering Joyce v. Roth, US v. One Book Entitled "Ulysses", and a crash course through the Roth and Miller obscenity standards and Eldred and Golan—I devoured in two days. I read a lot of books about copyright, and I like works that challenge societal assumptions that may be 30 years old, or 120 years old, or 300 years old. This one grapples with all of those. Recommended, but mostly for real copyright and free speech nerds.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Susan Oleksiw

    I came across this book by accident. When I picked it up in a local library after being drawn in by the title I expected something that would seem relevant to me as a writer grappling with the changing environment for commercially and self-published writers. The challenges facing writers opposed to Googles digital copying program are nearly overwhelming, and I was stumped to understand why courts found it so easy to rule against writers and in favor of Google and others. I still dont understand I came across this book by accident. When I picked it up in a local library after being drawn in by the title I expected something that would seem relevant to me as a writer grappling with the changing environment for commercially and self-published writers. The challenges facing writers opposed to Google’s digital copying program are nearly overwhelming, and I was stumped to understand why courts found it so easy to rule against writers and in favor of Google and others. I still don’t understand completely, but I have a better understanding of how we got where we are and why Google has been successful so far. Robert Spoo, well recognized in his chosen field of copyright law and literature, is interested in how copyright laws, or the lack of them as we understand them today, interacted with modernism in literature. He takes for his example the writer James Joyce, and his attempts to have an unexpurgated Ulysses published in the United States. Spoo’s history of copyright in this country is an eye-opener. Writers often talk about books in the public domain as though they had drifted into this ocean as a result of neglect or the passage of time or creation by the US or state government. But the public domain was in fact created by Congress through earlier copyright laws to ensure that those involved in the book business in this country had work here and didn’t face competition from outside the country. The only books that received copyright in this country were those that were printed and bound here, manufactured here; all others, no matter where they were published or by whom, were in the public domain. Once in the public domain, which occurred within a very short time after publication elsewhere, the book was fair game for anyone who wanted to publish it here. Writers who published abroad could gain a copyright here if they met stringent requirements, but otherwise the copyright failed in the US. This was the case well into the twentieth century. Publishers who wanted to publish work by someone who had already published it abroad faced the Wild West of publishing for decades. In response to this chaotic world they developed something called the “courtesy of the trade,” or “trade courtesy.” This phrase referred to a gentlemanly agreement among the larger, more established publishing houses to let the first to claim the work to have it. If Publisher X announced through a magazine ad or in some other way that he was going to publish the work of a popular British poet, his colleagues left him to it. The trade courtesy was an understanding among publishers to not poach on others’ writers from their publishers, and to not try to undercut other publishers with cheap reprints. None of this was legally binding, and no one could stop another publisher who ignored the unspoken rules. A publisher who ignored the rules was called a pirate. The term is not accurate because the publisher operating outside the rules of trade courtesy wasn’t breaking any law, but some felt so strongly against what he (it seems mostly a he) was doing that the term was used freely. Publishers who wanted to get ahead published anything that wasn’t protected by copyright, which meant almost everything published overseas. One of the more famous of these publishers was Samuel Roth, who hoped to publish James Joyce’s work, especially Ulysses. A publisher who published with no regard to the gentlemanly agreements of others faced no legal repercussions but plenty of social costs. He was shunned and subjected to unrelenting negative gossip and boycotting, others published cheap work to undercut his prices, and writers might sue to get any monies they could extract. Public opprobrium could drive a publisher out of business. Into this topsy turvy world came Ezra Pound and James Joyce. Joyce bitterly resented anyone taking his book and publishing an altered version, one cleaned up for the censors. Pound believed in disseminating literature, and in the end chose that over Joyce’s right to control his publishing in its entirety. When we think of Joyce’s lawsuit to get Ulysses into the US, we think he was challenging the prudish laws of the US. But in fact, Joyce first sued Roth for using his name for advertising without his permission. Joyce sued for damages he felt he must have suffered by not having control of his work, but in the end Joyce and Roth settled by agreeing to a consent decree (dated December 27, 1928). But even this had a very limited effect. This decree, according to the author, and despite Joyce’s grandiose claims, “has not been cited by a single court in a reported case” (p. 224). Joyce thought this decision would give authors their natural moral rights in the ownership of their labor, echoing Locke and European attitudes, but US courts and legislation have never gone this far (p. 225). The second step in getting Ulysses safely into the US, where Joyce’s preferred publisher, Bennett Cert, could publish it, was to have it seized by Customs. Once this happened, the book was subject to the Tariff Act of 1930, and the Cutting amendment. This amendment made the object confiscated the defendant in a case, and forced the government itself to defend its actions. The sender and the receiver of the item in question, in this case Ulysses, were not part of the case. During Prohibition, according to Spoo, lawsuits were often filed against the truck carrying bootlegged liquor and the like. Ulysses was confiscated, the case went to trial, and Judge Woolsey decided in favor of the book, in 1933. The book was free to enter the US, but it was still without copyright. Joyce’s great work was now subject to the trade courtesy practices that he and others abhorred, but he had no choice. This is a story of stunning twists and turns and surprises in getting Ulysses published in the US, not the least of which was Joyce’s attitude towards his lawyers’ bills (he refused to pay them). Equally surprising to me as a writer is that copyright as I have come to understand it only became law in 1976. Legislators have continued to tinker with copyright law so that even now the public domain is occasionally given a great book and deprived of another for a few years. It is a patently crazy system. The US didn’t sign the Berne Convention until 1989, when the US finally agreed to recognize foreign copyrights and afford works so protected overseas the same protection in the US. There is more, but by now you should have the idea that the history of copyrights in the US is anything but tidy and linear. The text is dense, but the writing is free of academic jargon, in some cases delightful. The author makes every effort to explain the legal niceties in simple, clear language. I learned more about Ezra Pound and James Joyce in this book than I ever did in college English literature classes. Highly recommended.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5 In this age of digital media, with authors and artists and publishing companies expressing concern over the ease of piracy of their work, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the laws of copyright are ever-changing and that piracy of written works has been going on for a long time. Author Robert Spoo takes an in-depth look at American copyright laws, the changing definitions of 'public domain' and some of the battles, This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5 In this age of digital media, with authors and artists and publishing companies expressing concern over the ease of piracy of their work, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the laws of copyright are ever-changing and that piracy of written works has been going on for a long time. Author Robert Spoo takes an in-depth look at American copyright laws, the changing definitions of 'public domain' and some of the battles, legal and literary, that have led to changes in the laws. The work is thorough ... and a bit dry. When I first requested this book, I had done so based on the title and subtitle ("Piracy, Publishing, and the Public Domain"). Nothing about this suggests that this is a history book. I was expecting something much more current. A look at copyright in the modern world. But this is mainly a history book. The early part of the book takes a look at American copyright generally around the turn of the century and the copyright laws of 1909. A large section of the book deals very specifically with a magazine publisher by the name of Sam Roth and the legal liberties he took with authors such as James Joyce in the first half of the 20th Century. Woven tightly with the copyright laws were decency laws (which may have tripped up Roth more than his printing works without permission) which categorized some works of literature (such as James Joyce's Ulysses) 'obscene' and therefore not copyright-able in the U.S. (at the time). There were portions of the book that I did find eye-opening, or at least food-for-thought. While I've watched some of the copyright laws change over the past few decades, I don't think I was ever really aware of how disharmonious the laws are among other countries. As Spoo quotes: "The public domain is always local." But perhaps more concerning is the idea that a major reason for world-wide copyright laws being so fragmented is due in large part because of "America's copyright isolationism." Looking for a good book? If you are interested in the history of the U.S. copyright laws, Robert Spoo's Without Copyrights is a serious look at the concerns from some authors' perspectives, as well as an in-depth report on one particular publisher who pushed the laws to the limit. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    346.73048 S7641 2013

  8. 4 out of 5

    Simon

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Gold

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ulises Villalba

  11. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  12. 5 out of 5

    Frank Thorn

  13. 5 out of 5

    Naitasia

  14. 5 out of 5

    Abe

  15. 5 out of 5

    Crazymontecristo

  16. 5 out of 5

    Candace

  17. 5 out of 5

    Treasa

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alex Skutt

  19. 4 out of 5

    Liana Machado

  20. 5 out of 5

    Zeynep

  21. 4 out of 5

    William Healey

  22. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bennie Castle

  24. 5 out of 5

    Arthur

  25. 5 out of 5

    Korri

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  28. 5 out of 5

    Clayborn

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

  31. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Miller

  32. 5 out of 5

    Eli

  33. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  34. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

  35. 4 out of 5

    Farah Tohme

  36. 5 out of 5

    Emil O. W. Kirkegaard

  37. 4 out of 5

    David Giammarino

  38. 5 out of 5

    Kat

  39. 5 out of 5

    Luke Mroz

  40. 5 out of 5

    Quinn

  41. 5 out of 5

    ambyr

  42. 5 out of 5

    Christine

  43. 4 out of 5

    Rt

  44. 4 out of 5

    Laura Quilter

  45. 5 out of 5

    Alan

  46. 4 out of 5

    Martijn

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