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RE: university press rights assignment

I often field questions like this from authors, and would like to 
offer another possibility:  the author can call the university 
press directly to discuss the proposed addendum and the digital 
projects that press is exploring.  University presses are 
nonprofits who share the mission to disseminate scholarship, and 
so we welcome conversation with authors in the realization of 
that common mission.

Daphne Ireland
Princeton University Press

-----Original Message-----
[mailto:owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu] On Behalf Of John Cox
Sent: Monday, January 15, 2007 8:43 PM
To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
Subject: RE: university press rights assignment

Jim O'Donnell's question is, as ever, perceptive.  But the answer
has to be in two stages:

1.  If the author contract is a licence to publish, with
copyright remaining with the author, then the university press
addendum makes no sense, as it requires the assignment of rights
for the full term of copyright, whether the title remains in
print or not.  It is thoughtless and unconscionable.  What is
required is a simple extension of the right to publish in
electronic/digital media as well as in print.  In any case, there
should be a clause, as Jim suggests, that, on the author's
request, reverts all rights or licences granted to the publisher
if the work goes out of print - usually if it has not been
available from the publisher for two years or more.

2.  If the author contract specifically assigns copyright in the
work to the author - so that it is published "C the publisher" -
then the addendum is irrelevant, as the publisher already owns
the copyright. What the author agreement should provide for is
the reversion of the copyright in the work to the author if the
work goes out of print, along the lines in 1 above.

There is a practical wrinkle in all of this.  When works were
published in print, and electronic publishing was in the future,
it was easy to tell when a work went out of print.  Today, with
print on demand (POD), and e-book versions being published by
publishers, books can remain "in print" for many years after the
printed stock has been exhausted, simply because it is available
in POD or in digital form.  I am sure that literary agents are
working on this, and a solution from general publishing will
drift into the scholarly sphere long before we are in no position
to care.  One possible solution may be to agree that rights
revert to the author when royalties generated from sales and due
to the author fall below an agreed minimum for, say, two
consecutive years, or the number of copies sold in any format
fails to reach an agreed minimum over a similar period.

John Cox

Managing Director
John Cox Associates Ltd
Rookwood, Bradden
TOWCESTER, Northants NN12 8ED
United Kingdom
E-mail: John.E.Cox@btinternet.com


-----Original Message----- [mailto:owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu] On
Behalf Of James J. O'Donnell
Sent: 14 January 2007 23:46
To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
Subject: university press rights assignment

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

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

Jim O'Donnell
Georgetown University