The National Library of Ireland has made available for the first time James Joyce’s manuscripts for free to the public via the Library’s online catalogue. The online publication coincides with a book set publication of the same manuscripts that are being sold for hundreds of Euro.

The Irish Times reports on the publication of Joyce’s collection, and the factors that have played into the Library’s early announcement of the project. The decision to announce the online version of the Joyce manuscripts was made after a Joycean scholar published the material in editions priced at up to €250.

Joycean scholar Danis Rose has published Joyce’s material ranging in prices from  €75 and €250, or up to €800 for an entire set . Rose has claimed he is now the copyright holder in the EU of these manuscripts according to The Irish Times.

The Joyce collection includes “notes and early drafts of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, as well as earlier notes by Joyce from between 1903 and 1928. Two of the notebooks include the earliest surviving sets of notes, and there are drafts of nine separate episodes of Ulysses. The handwriting in the manuscripts matches Joyce’s known handwriting from the different periods in his life and includes his use of coloured crayon lines and Xs through certain writing.”

Fiona Ross, director of the National Library, said yesterday that plans to put the manuscripts online had been underway for some time. The National Library hadn’t intended to announce their plan for the online publication of the manuscripts until next June, but opted to move up the announcement after Rose’s publication of the materials.

Rose said in a statement that “there is a provision in law that the first person to publish previously unpublished material entering the public domain acquires economic rights equivalent to copyright for a period of 25 years.” Rose asserts that he is the first person to publish these materials after they became a product of the public domain, setting the stage for potential drama with the National Library of Ireland.

“To make the situation explicit,” added Rose, “I will make over to the Irish State such rights in the Joyce text in the Ulysses documents that I have acquired.”

Rose claims to have published the Joycean texts as this time in order to prevent other “less well-disposed” parties from doing so.

If Rose’s claim to be the copyright holder is upheld, the National Library and Joyce scholars would have to seek Rose’s permission to publish “any substantial portion of these manuscripts.” Rose could also potentially acquire a substantial fee from those wishing to use the materials, such as the National Library.

Rose does not support the free online publication of the Joyce manuscripts saying the plan is “unwise” and “precipitate in the extreme.” He added that it was strange that a body which had been so extremely careful about these documents for so long had suddenly become so careless.

The director of the National Library, Fiona Ross, said that a committee initiated by the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation was being held to review the issue of copyright in Ireland. The review committee is not a result of the matter between the Library and Davis Rose.

Ross added that the National Library’s duty is to “lawfully to make available to the public the material in its care”, and that publishing the Joyce manuscripts online adheres to that objective. She added that the Library “looks forward to working through the issues associated with the legality of providing access to its materials.”

The National Library of Ireland acquired the manuscripts in question back in 2002 for a staggering €12.6 million. Copyright to the Joyce estate had vanquished under law by then as it had exceeded 70 years since the death of James Joyce.

Davis Rose is believed to be publishing the Joyce manuscripts through a previously unknown publishing firm called House of Breathings based in Michigan. It is believed Rose opted to publish in the US since legislation in America indicates more clearly that the works of James Joyce are a matter of public domain.

The National Library of Ireland’s holdings of The Joyce Papers is available online.