Ozymandias Lessons for Copyright

BM,_AES_Egyptian_Sulpture_~_Colossal_bust_of_Ramesses_II,_the_'Younger_Memnon'_(1250_BC)_(Room_4)2Ann Bartow’s post about Paul Zukofsky, son of Louis and Celia Zukofsky, and his attempt to exert extreme control over his parents’ work reveals that heirs are problem for copyright. Mr. Zukofsky asserts some untenable points about his power over the material and the need for academics to seek his approval. The full letter is on his site. Here are some choice quotes:

Despite what you may have been told, you may not use LZ’s words as you see fit, as if you owned them, while you hide behind the rubric of “fair use”. “Fair use” is a very-broadly defined doctrine, of which I take a very narrow interpretation, and I expect my views to be respected. We can therefore either more or less amicably work out the fees that I demand; you can remove all quotation; or we can turn the matter over to lawyers, this last solution being the worst of the three, but one which I will use if I need to enforce my rights. …

Next, other than for the following, I am not trying to censor you. I hardly give a damn what is said about my father (I am far more protective of my mother) as long as the name is spelled properly, and the fees are paid. My interest is almost purely economic. That being said, I do not approve of delving into the personal lives of my parents. If you wish to spend your time worrying if LZ did or did not shtupp alligators, that is your problem, but I will not approve quotation. That is not scholarship. That is gossip, and beneath contempt. …

Finally, when all else fails, and you remain hell-bent on quoting LZ, but you really, really REALLY do not want to deal with me, or you have been stupidly advised to try to circumvent me — remind yourself again and again, and yet once more, what Lyndon Baines Johnson’s said about J. Edgar Hoover i.e.: “I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in”.

Although these statements may seem like ravings, Mr. Zukofsky is not alone in having these perspectives. As some know, the Joyce, T.S. Elliot, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.M. Barrie, Sylvia Plath, Samuel Beckett, and Bertolt Brecht estates have expressed similar views. What strikes me here is that although Louis and Celia Zukofsky are important figures in American poetry, I would bet that many are unaware of who they are. Their son’s perspective of wanting extreme control, little discussion, and rent extraction indicates his interest in, well, his interests. Those do not seem to include aiding people who wish to keep the artists in question alive as part of our culture. All of which makes me think Mr. Zukofsky might take a lesson from another poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, for I think that not even the pedestal may remain for his parents if he maintains this posture.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

IMAGE: WikiCommons. Thought to have inspired the poem.
License: GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation

Description: The British Museum, Room 4 – Colossal bust of Ramesses II, the ‘Younger Memnon’ From the Ramesseum, Thebes, Egypt 19th Dynasty, about 1250 BC. One of the largest pieces of Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum. Weighing 7.25 tons, this fragment of his statue was cut from a single block of two-coloured granite. He is shown wearing the nemes head-dress surmounted by a cobra diadem.

Author: Mujtaba Chohan E-mail: m.chohan@gmail.com Source: British Museum Visit

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8 Responses

  1. Matthew Reid Krell says:

    I wish Mr. Zukofsky much luck in prosecuting his extreme views on copyright. If he expects his views on fair use to be respected, his views on fair use should be consistent with, you know, the law on fair use.

    Although, should universities be expected to indemnify their graduate students from these types of suits? If not, Zukofsky could simply SLAPP his way to his preferred regime.

  2. Bruce Boyden says:

    Are heirs more likely to be litigation-happy? I’m not sure. E.g., J.D. Salinger, Bridgeport Music, Prince, Perfect 10.

  3. Dave says:

    We can ask Bruce’s question along another axis: how are the Zukofsky heir’s views different than those of any other selfish owner playing hardball? My sense of many of the owners (heirs or otherwise) who take unusually aggressive approaches to copyright are doing so (at least ostensibly) out of a sense of offense at the other party’s use. Here, Zukofsky Jr. is simply saying that he wants money, and will go to any lengths to get it. This makes him avaricious, but that’s something he shares with many other overprivileged scions of fortune, whether the asset owned by the estate is IP or traditional property.

  4. Deven says:

    Sorry for the confusion. I am not saying that heirs are anymore litigation happy. I think they bring extra views that further hinder what could be a more open copyright system.

    As to Dave’s point, I think my answer is yes. What I mean is that the copyright system in general sets up rent seeking that flows from being “overprivileged scions of fortune.” Copyright is different than real property to me, because of the way it ties up material that might be seen as a type of infrastructure. In that sense, I am less pleased with the current duration.

    I tried to keep the post short, but Mr. Zukofsky also argued that copyright was used here to provide for children. I find that argument untenable for a host of reasons that don’t fit well into this forum. But I if desired, I can say more on that front.

  5. A humorous observation says:

    Interestingly, Mr. Zukofsky’s letter quotes e.e. cummings’s “i sing of Olaf glad and big.” That poem was published in 1931, and the copyright looks to have been renewed (at least based on the copyright notice in George J. Firmage’s compilation titled E. E. Cummings: Complete Poems, 1904-1962).

    I wonder if he sought permission, or paid a fee.

  6. A.J. Sutter says:

    The back-page column in the 2009/11/13 issue of TLS opens with the Paul Zukofsky letter; as they note, “No boom has sounded in Zukofsy studies, and none will do so in the near future, if the poet’s son has his way.” Another PZ quote: “‘I can perhaps understand your misguided interest in literature … but one line you may never cross, ie [sic], never never tell me that your work is to be valued by me because it promotes my father. Doing that will earn my life-long permanent enmity'” — to which TLS adds, “You wouldn’t want that.” Given this and some other comments in PZ’s letter, I wonder how much his letter is intended to advance his economic interests (which he is clearly undercutting), and how much is really about some Freudian mishugas. Sounds like a topic for someone’s Ph.D. dissertation …

  7. Deven says:

    Thanks for the quote catch.

    And yes some “Freudian mishugas” for an ironic PhD study is probably at work here.

  8. Zefrey Love says:

    I was trying to find information on this old book I have ,Poets and Poetry of 1931 by Jenia Boudine,It is a Poets Guild Publishers Hollywood 1932,printed at The Gutenberg Press 833 west third st. Los Angeles Ca. I can’t seem to find anything about it.