Thursday, March 03, 2005

Sonny Bono and Marcel Proust.

Imagine that you've just finished the new translation of Sodom and Gomorrah, the fourth volume of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, and so you have driven down to the mall to buy volume five (The Prisoner). You're more than halfway there! Those madeleines are a faint memory -- though one that stays with you -- and you're on the back stretch.

Then you get to the bookstore, and learn to your dismay that you can't buy the last three volumes until 2018. Why? It turns out that it's Sonny Bono's parting gift. The Sonny Bono Copyright Act, enacted in 1998, extended the copyright by twenty years, and so only the first four volumes have passed into the public domain.

All is not lost. You can go back to the old translations, or you can order the new books from England (though is this legal?). But it's too bad that Congress's giveaway to Disney should stand in the way of reading Proust, though it's not like it should be a surprise.

One wonders why the publisher of the new translation doesn't try to cut a deal with Proust's heirs, or whomever owns the American rights to the works, but apparently that is a question for another day.

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