A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: James Joyce

Copyright Clash at the Cellular Level

 

By Dawn Mikulastik

James Joyce is thought by many to have revolutionized 20th century fiction, so it comes as no surprise that biologist Craig Venter decided to quote the writer when he revolutionized the science world and created the first cell with a synthetic genome in 2010.

The synthetic cell was copied from a natural genome, which contains all the hereditary information of an organism, and placed into a host cell. In order to differentiate between the synthetic genomes and the natural genomes, Mr. Venter and his team encoded different ”watermarks” into the new cells, including “To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life,” a passage from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. To the delight of the scientific community the cells came to life, but the Joyce estate was not amused and tried to stop the experiment dead in its tracks.

This kind of “watermarking” is nothing new. In fact, according to The New Yorker, scientists have used quotations from sources ranging from the Bible to famous Disney songs to Virgil with no problems of note. But as Discover Magazine reported, Mr. Venter didn’t get off so easy, and received a cease-and-desist letter from the famously litigious estate of the Irish writer. It appears the estate thinks that Mr. Venter’s use of the passage without seeking permission constitutes copyright infringement. In a statement, Mr. Venter defended quoting the line in the synthetic genome and said that he and his team “thought it fell under fair use.” The article mulls over what a decision in favor of Mr. Joyce’s estate could mean if there were to be a lawsuit but doesn’t discuss the likelihood that the court will decide that way. (more…)

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