re: How Long Does a Publisher Have the Rights to My Book?

posted 6/28/12

Dear Editor…

When you sign a contract, does the publisher get the rights to that book for its whole copyright time?

Thanks,
R.

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Dear R….

No way! That would give the publisher rights for your lifetime plus 70 years, which is the term of copyright. You’re only granting them rights to the book while they keep it in print in at least one format (hardcover, paperback, etc.). The rights revert to you when the book goes out of print (OP). But there’s a catch: Publishers can simply call a title out of stock (OS) instead of OP as a hedge against the possibility of renewed consumer interest in the book down the line—say, if you win a Nobel Prize for curing a disease and suddenly folks want to read your old book about the amazing life of bacteria. This is particularly problematic with ebooks, which don’t really ever go out of print. The digital files can sit on a server forever, ready for instant sales. If your contract doesn’t already have one, negotiate a clause that declares your book OP when sales dip below a certain number for an accounting period (publishers have two per year). That’s fair for all.

Happy writing!
The Editor

P.S. For more on this topic, read Contracts, Publishing Biz
posted by: The Editor
under: Contracts, Publishing Biz
Comments to "re: How Long Does a Publisher Have the Rights to My Book?" | Add a Comment
    1. Bill wrote (on 06/28/12 at 2:16 pm) :

      This is good information to have. Need to be careful when it’s something you’ve slaved over for so long.

      [Reply]

      The Editor replied (on 06/28/12 at 2:36 pm) :

      With larger, established houses, this probably won’t be an issue for anybody. It’s common contract language. It’s more likely to be an issue when dealing with smaller, newer publishing enterprises.

      [Reply]

    2. Laura C. wrote (on 06/28/12 at 3:56 pm) :

      Great answer. It’s something that’s very important to scrutinize in a contract before an author signs. Thanks!

      [Reply]

    3. Karen Lange wrote (on 06/29/12 at 1:52 pm) :

      I hadn’t thought about this. Thanks for the info!

      [Reply]

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