Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Life After Reversion: Who Gives Permission?

Dear Rich: I want to reuse a table or image from the second edition of a book. Copyright for the fourth edition of that same book has been transferred back to the author by the publisher. Would I go to the publisher or the author for the permission? Are there cases where a publisher retains rights on some editions and not others? We think the author is probably the one to give permission (assuming the author still retains copyright). However, there are a couple of caveats.
Authors and copyright. Sometimes authors retain (or obtain) copyright ownership of a work but exclusively grant all rights to their publisher. In that case, the book may state "© Author" but permission would be granted by the publisher. (That's the way publising contracts often established rights pre-2000.) So, it's possible that either the publisher transferred copyright back to the author but retained exclusive rights over the text, or the author granted exclusive rights to a new publisher and retained copyright. Check to see who the publisher is for the fourth edition. If the work is not self-published, you may need to ask the publisher.
Authors and reversion. More likely, copyright returned to the author under a principle known as reversion. The author's contract  may state that if the book is out of print, or sales are below a certain amount, rights revert to the author. In that case, the ex-publisher gives up all rights to previous editions (except perhaps the right to sell out remaining copies). Assuming the author created the table and image (and claims them under copyright ), then the author would have authority to grant permission. If you're using a permission agreement (and especially if you're paying for permission) ask the author to warranty ownership of rights. A warranty is a contract promise you can include in your permission agreement --- something to the effect of "the Author has the authority to grant the rights granted in this agreement."