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university press rights assignment
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- Subject: university press rights assignment
- From: "James J. O'Donnell" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Sun, 14 Jan 2007 18:45:47 EST
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I have a letter before me from an American University press (not one that has published any book I have authored) that asks its authors to supplement their existing contracts signed before 1996 by signing an addendum. They need some such addendum in order to be sure they do have the rights to digital distribution necessary if they want to make deals to distribute e-versions through Amazon, B&N, Google, and the like. Here's the text: "The Author grants and assigns exclusively to the Press for the full term of the copyright . . . inclusion in electronic storage and retrieval systems; production, publication, and exhibition in computer software; and any other rights not specifically enumerated in any media and technology now known or hereafter invented." Now the old-fashioned book contracts that many of us have signed over the years had a nice out-clause: if the publisher lets the book go out of print and it stays out of print for more than six months, then the author has the right to claim back all assigned rights just by asking. I in fact did this with a book I published with Oxford University Press in 1992, and the full (originally three-volume) work is now available on my website free of charge for scholars to use. (OUP later did turn up wanting to reprint it, and discovered they had to ask *my* permission, which I was happy to give.) But this addendum essentially signs away the farm forever (ok, life plus 75 years, but I regard a date falling somewhere at or with luck after the turn of the *next* century as forever from now for me) -- all electronic rights in any medium now known or to be invented between now and c. 2100 AD, in perpetuity, exclusively to a Press whose own corporate and physical survival to that date is *scarcely* guaranteed. This seems to me to give a *lot* more to publishers than they've had. I'd like to hear suggestions as to what a reasonable such addendum might be like -- give publishers enough to let them make a business plan for e-versions while retaining useful rights for authors. Progress in that direction is occurring in other areas such as journal articles: how now to get the best arrangement here? Jim O'Donnell Georgetown University
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