Friday, June 15, 2012

Who gets copyright in book publishing contract?

out of print -- The Book Of Wonders
(late 14th Century)
Dear Rich: Is it standard in the industry today for authors to retain copyrights to nonfiction works, or are most copyrights registered in the publisher’s name? The trend since the mid-1990s (when we all started going digital) is for publishers to acquire copyright in the publisher's name. However, this has been characterized as a "ghost issue" (scroll to Question #2) in author-publisher negotiations because no matter under whose name the copyright is registered, the publisher always controls the rights granted in the publishing agreement (and it should be clear that rights not granted to the publisher are reserved by author).
There may be some administrative advantages for the publisher to acquire protection in its name (and it used to make it easier to proceed against infringers) but what probably matters more than the name of the copyright holder, is whether rights will revert under the publishing contract and what triggers reversion. In today's digital publishing universe, the issue often comes down to when a book is considered to be out of print -- many authors are arguing for a standard based on a limited number of sales per quarter. Here's a related blog entry on the subject.