Paul Valery's inscriptions on Palais de Chaillot

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  • Greeting Carrie and new Copyright Scholars from an original Copyright Scholar.  I'm so glad the forum is back.  I had to create a new username because I changed jobs and emails long ago, but I am the same afry you see in earlier threads.

    I have what I think is a situation that is both really simple and complicated at the same time.

    The Palais de Chaillot was completed in 1937.  It has 4 inscriptions written by Paul Valery.  They appear to have been composed for this building.

    A composer wants to use these inscriptions for a new composition.  He wants to know if they are in the public domain.  I think the answer is no, but it's more complicated than I thought.

    The composer says that the inscriptions are in the public domain in France.  I believed him.  But when I searched for my username here, I discovered that I answered a question on French law in 2004:

    Paul Valery died in 1945, and I believe that his works became public domain in France in 2015.

    But the inscriptions were published in the US in 1970 by Princeton.  What's interesting to me is that it was printed before the table of contents.  If you have access to JSTOR, you can view it here:

    We don't care about the English translation, just the French original.

    I believe that Princeton's position will be that they have the copyright and want to negotiate the rights for the composer's use.

    But is this complicated by the apparent fact that the original "publication" was on the building in Paris?  I don't know.  Take a look at page 80 (the final page of the main text) of this document published by WIPO to celebrate the centenary of the Berne Convention:   The main text ends with a picture of one of the inscriptions, with the French text repeated.  Page 241 gives credit to the photographer.  WIPO doesn't specifiy a copyright holder (which I think would be the French publisher if this work is a poem rather than an architectual feature).

    I'm reasonably certain that the composer is not interested in a fair use argument.  He's going to either use it because it's in the public domain, negotiate the rights (I believe that means Princeton), or not use it.

    Thanks for any help, and I hope the forum finds this question as fascinating as I did.



  • hello Alfred Fry:

    Nice to hear from you.  I read this question 4 times and believe that the quotes (in French) are in the public domain. Am I correct that the Princeton quotes were translated to English (or they also in French).

    I want to say that the US publication does not matter, but others on the forum may have other thoughts. 




  • Hello Carrie,

    I should have been more clear.  I also made a small error.  The inscriptions are after the Table of Contents but before the Introduction.

    Page v: ToC

    Page vi: Inscriptions in French

    Page vii: English translation

    This is volume 11 of a series.  Everything in this volume, except for the inscriptions on page vi is in English.

    There are no references on these pages, but I just stumbled upon the notes on  page 219.  Pages 219-222 discuss page vi and include "The inscriptions, first published in Les Nouvelles Litteraires (Paris, July 7, 1937)."

    The poems in volume 1 are bilingual.  French on the left page.  English on the right.  It appears that the poems are from notebooks, so I believe the Princeton edition is the first US publication of the French version of those poems.

    Thanks for your help.

  • Maybe others might want to chime in, but I still say the French is in the public domain. Princeton might have right to the English translation but why would they have rights to the original French version?



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