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Copyrights – Economic Rights – Part 1 – Print Rights


For more info on copyrights issues : Literary Law Guide For Authors

Moral rights are all nice and important but they do not pay the bill.

So let’s have a look at the economic rights:

a. Print rights

b. Electronic rights

c. Translation rights

d. Screen, stage and broadcasting rights

e. Merchandising rights

Today, we will look at the Print Rights.

This seems to be an easy enough task. Basically, by signing away the print rights, the author grants the publisher the right to print the material, sell it in various outlets in exchange for royalties consisting of a percentage of the sales price.

That is the gist of it in a nutshell. As always, however, the devil is in the details. There are many aspects to consider, such as:

• duration of the contract,

• geographical area covered by the contract,

• exit clause

to name the main ones.

The duration of the contract: The author does not actually sell his rights; he licenses them for a predefined duration. This duration is contractually established. For example, a typical contract for print rights is 7 years. In theory, that should mean that after 7 years, the author is free to move on to another publisher if he so wishes.

Unfortunately, publisher’s contracts used to define the duration differently. The held the rights as long as the book was not “out of print”.

Back in the days when an author had virtually no chances to find a publisher willing to publish an already published book and self-publishing was virtually non-existent, this was a standard clause without real importance.

The combination of the rise of ebooks and the easy availability of POD books has changed that side of the equation though.

Not all publishing contracts define “out of print” in the same way. For example, “Out of Print” can mean that the work is no longer printed (meaning in hardcopy) in English for sale through the standard channels (bookstores, the internet, etc.). Or it can mean that the publisher is no longer offering it for sale. Or that the publisher is selling fewer than a specified number of copies over a specified time period.

If an author’s contract has an “out of print” clause, here are some points to check out to determine how to revert the rights if at all possible:

• Is the term “In Print” is clearly defined?

• Is there a minimum number of books that must be sold in order for the item to be considered “In Print”?

And for authors whose contract predates the advent of digital publishing

• Are electronic versions of the work included in the definition?

• How much time does the publisher have to put the book back on sale if the author invokes the out of print clause?

• Can the author recapture some rights that the publisher is not exploiting (say to an electronic version of the work) even if the book is available in other formats?

The geographical area covered by the contract: As opposed to an e-book, a print book is a physical object that has to be physically sold to a buyer. Typically, s publisher will have a distribution network more developed in certain areas than in others, so when signing of print rights, it is worth ensuring that the publisher is not garnering rights for areas where he has no distribution outlets.

The exit clause: as the publishing industry is currently undergoing major changes, and new publishing techniques might appear in the future, it is wise to ensure that any publishing contract contains an exit clause. This would be a way by which wither the author or the publisher has the possibility to break the contract according to a defined procedure.

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3 Responses to "Copyrights – Economic Rights – Part 1 – Print Rights"

  1. Judy Sheade says:

    That is exactly what I am doing because my work so far has been published and perhaps distributed with out any payment being made on my behalf. So I keep it to myself.

  2. Skyler says:

    I wonder if anyone ever considers all this to be arbitrary and unnecessarily complicated because it’s not a part of the free market, if in fact copyrights and patents are government imposed monopolies that stifle innovation and prevent the free flow and improvement of ideas. Where does the right to print come from? It comes from OWNERSHIP of the PAPER and INK. Where do distribution rights come from? it comes with OWNERSHIP of PHYSICAL MATERIALS to be distributed. Rights do not come from creating an idea, and if they did no one would be able to think freely. Rights do not come from government legislation. Only monopolies and intervention do.

    Authors don’t need a monopoly to sell a product. The book and the information are different things. If an author or any other professional intellectual wants to be paid for the information, let him keep it to himself until he is satisfactorily paid, and then charge for the ink and paper it is distributed on.

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