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Old 10-21-2010, 01:24 PM   #1
craig8128
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Publishers, Authors, and ebook Rights?

I have a question, and I hope that it is not too naive. I'm not sure what else to do but ask, and hopefully those of you with experience will enlighten me.

Here goes: as I understand it, in the 'traditional' publishing industry, a writer assigns copyright to their book to the publisher, and then the publisher prints the book.

There seem to be a great many out-of-print books that are not available in electronic format. Conceivably, an author could "self-re-publish" an ebook version of out-of-print book via Amazon or B&N or etc. But I don't seem to see much of that happening.

Why is this? Is it difficult to convince a publisher to hand back the necessary copyrights to an author? Or do most authors not feel it's worthwhile to release an electronic version? Or is this kind of thing happening all over and I'm just not noticing it for some reason?

(Or are my base assumptions simply wrong? I know this is a complicated ecology, sometimes agents are involved, and shortly after posting this question I caught the thread about "backlist ebook rights", which makes me wonder if publishers even own the ebook rights to older out-of-print books)

I'd greatly appreciate any light that anyone could shine on this. Thanks!

Craig

Last edited by craig8128; 10-21-2010 at 02:02 PM. Reason: trying to make it a more intelligent question :)
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Old 10-21-2010, 05:23 PM   #2
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I'm afraid you are a little off here, Craig.

Authors do not abdicate 'copyright' when they sign with a publisher. They always hold that. What they do is to assign certain publication rights, which should be clearly and fully included in a formal contract for the protection of all parties. This will cover such things as print rights in various countries, film rights, ebook rights, foreign-language publication rights, etc, etc, bloody etc.

Normally these days, a publishing contract will specify digital rights. Until pretty recently, though, it often didn't because ebooks were an SF pipedream, which is why there's a grey area on some older agreements and a bit of a row going on between some authors, agencies and publishers as to who holds the rights to what.

It's a sticky wicket at times. That's why, I guess, new online stores like Amazon for Kindle run spot-checks on catalogue titles to make sure a publisher does hold indisputable digital rights (we've had two queries this week alone from Amazon -- fortunately, all our contacts are sound and can be immediately produced on demand from a retailer to establish our rights).

Ass-about tip, we were given ebook rights by a major publisher this week on a hardback/paperback title they'd put out of print -- pretty well letting die a retainers death because they have thousands of speculatively mass-run examples of the title gathering dust in a warehouse somewhere. They would not give us print rights to the book, even though we edited from original author raw copy, sub-contracted a new artist for inside illustration and re-designed text and provided a new cover becaus they hope to sell their remaining stock at some ridiculous dime-a-dozen rate to the bargain basement end of the industry.

The loser, of course, is the author and/or agency who didn't clearly set the ground rules in the original agreement.

It's a bloody pain in the Netherlands, but that's the way it cuts, Craig.

Cheers. Neil
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