Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Who's Copyright is it?

Today we read from the excellent Booksquare blog http://www.booksquare.com about Simon and Schuster’s approach to changing the rules about rights reversals. It is reported by Booksquare that Simon & Schuster have announced that it is changing its standard contract to retain rights to a book for the entire length of a copyright. Simon & Schuster recognise they will now own the rights to a work and are able to distribute it for 70 years after the death of an author for works created after 1978. This change raises many questions, such as, whether electronic rights are deemed subsidiary rights or remain primary rights and the impact of this change on royalties and permissions in a fragmented world.

Authors, by default and law, own the copyright to their work. Publishers merely acquire the right to publish or distribute the author’s work.

Publishes will argue that the move is good for authors and that the technology now enables this natural change. They are all embracing print on demand technology and this in turn is presenting by the authors and publishers the opportunity to keep their books alive, available and selling in the marketplace in a way that was not previously possible. The new Simon & Schuster language essentially means that as long as a book exists in the publisher’s “catalogue”, the publisher owns the rights.

Let’s get real. Publishers make mistakes, not all books make it first time round and some need a second opportunity. This could be viewed as locking up the art works in the vaults merely for the sake of owning them. The majority of contracts today enable the rights to revert back to the author once the title has gone out of print. There may be a period where the reprint is under consideration but once out of print the option exists but in the world of POD, titles may remain always “in print” and this now makes this a major digital issue. Will the publisher continue to market and actively sell the “long tail” of titles as they move from in-print to POD, or just put it on the pod bookshelf and deprive the author of republishing it with someone who cares about it and is willing to invest in it? Will they literally sit on it and wait for the search engines to find it and collect the money for nothing.

We could work together to protect the interests of the creators of wealth, the authors, or as we fear , just turn a blind eye and hope that fair practice will prevail