Birthday fetters

March 5, 1999

Patrick Parrinder is right to say that it is doubtful how far holders of copyright can control the use of material in the public domain (Letters, THES, February 19). The difficulty with the Textual Practice article on Ted Hughes ("Poetic licence denied", February 12) was that Anne Whitehead had applied for permission and been refused (whereas my inclination would be not to ask). I felt I could not expect her to confront Faber and Faber and the Hughes estate without the backing of Routledge (TP publishers), but they are undergoing a reorganisation and I wanted to get that issue to press.

Publishers maintain differing interpretations of "fair dealing". What Whitehead wanted to quote did not, in the opinion of some famous and reputable houses, require permission. But others are more restrictive. Perhaps The THES can get us all a legal opinion.

I am wary of appeals to intellectual freedom in a capitalist society; I am not unsympathetic to the Hugheses' anxieties; one person's liberty is, so often, another person's constraint. I have written to Faber, proposing it convenes a meeting between senior academics and representatives of the Hughes estate. I hope that we made it clear that our purposes, overall as a profession, are not malign.

Alan Sinfield

Editor, Textual Practice

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