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The Rights Stuff

Keeping a grip on the ‘rights picture’ for your book can be challenging. It means understanding what rights you own, those you have acquired from other people and those you license on. 
- Clare Hodder

One of the key assets for traditional publishers is the intellectual property of their authors: their contracts typically secure exclusive publishing rights, often with punitive clauses such as first right of refusal for future works and a ban on ‘competing works’ (which can be problematic if you’re writing in a fairly narrow field). They also acquire subsidiary rights such as translations and film or game adaptations, and will often attempt to future-proof their assets by securing exclusive rights to publish not only print and ebooks, but ‘any format now known or hereafter developed’. This makes complete sense for the publisher, who is often making a significant investment in publishing the work with no guarantee of success, and of course many publishers work hard to exploit the rights they own, for example by negotiating translation deals.

For some authors, however, the idea of signing away these rights is unacceptable. Who knows what you might want to do with your book in future? The opportunity to control your own intellectual property and make it work for you, rather than for your publisher, is increasingly attractive to savvy authors across the publishing spectrum, but particularly in business.

If you opt to use a publishing partner such as Practical Inspiration Publishing you can retain ownership of all rights in your work (I also give my authors the final print and ebook files, so that they can take them to any other publishing channel or partner they wish in future) – but what then? 

For this month’s Contentology newsletter, I interviewed leading industry expert Clare Hodder on rights management for self-published authors. I thought her advice was so good that I asked if I could reproduce it in a blog, and she gave me non-exclusive permission to do so (are you seeing how this intellectual property stuff works yet?) Here she is… 

What is copyright and why is it important?
Copyright is automatically vested in the work of a creator as soon as that work is expressed in a tangible form. It protects the work from being copied or re-used by others without the original creator’s permission. Under a traditional publishing model, an author would license or assign many of the rights conferred upon them by copyright to a publisher, in exchange for that publisher’s investment in the work, and hopefully a good royalty on any copies sold. With a self-publishing model, authors retain all their rights, and have the freedom to exploit them however they choose.

Keeping ownership of your rights is an exciting prospect for many authors but also a daunting one. What do you see as the main challenges and opportunities for self-published authors? 
Understanding the wealth of ‘secondary’ or ‘subsidiary’ rights opportunities available and how you might respond can be challenging but also represents a fantastic opportunity to broaden the market for your work. Subsidiary rights might include translations, adaptations, audio or film versions of your content, serialisations to newspapers or magazines, licensing content to app developers or websites, selling the right to produce your work in a different format, merchandising opportunities, or just granting someone permission to re-use a short extract from your work. The range of possibilities is almost limitless, you just have to think creatively about what additional markets there might be for the content you produce. Be careful though: good licensing serves to enhance the value of the original product rather than diminish it, it is easy to erode your core product’s market if you don’t think carefully about what rights you license and on what terms. The good news is that there are specialist licensing professionals you can consult to manage the sale of subsidiary rights for you, and I would certainly recommend this for bigger deals like the sale of translation, serialisation, film or merchandising rights.

Using third-party content – other people’s intellectual property – in your work can be a big challenge (so if possible, it is best avoided!). See below for more on this.

One of the biggest challenges of recent times for all publishers is how to manage copyright infringement. This takes many forms, from the obviously pirated versions of content, to people just ‘sharing’ other people’s work without thinking about the fact that it amounts to copyright infringement, and everything in between. Of course, depending on the amount of content uploaded, who has infringed, or even what your own business model is, you might not actually mind that it has been put ‘out there’ without your permission – in fact, you might consider it an opportunity: one person’s piracy is another person’s publicity after all!

Keeping a grip on the ‘rights picture’ for your book can be challenging. It means understanding what rights you own, those you have acquired from other people and those you license on. Depending on the complexity of your project, it can be tricky to manage these. Not only do you need to understand and abide by the terms and conditions relating to each license granted or acquired but you also need to make sure there are no conflicts. Good record keeping is therefore essential, and can help you ensure that you maximise all the licensing opportunities which might be available.

What potential pitfalls are there for authors when they use others’ IP, e.g. illustrations or quotations? 
In theory using other people’s stuff is quite straightforward. You just have to remember that pretty much everything is covered by copyright and that copyright belongs to someone and it is that someone (or their representative, e.g. agent or publisher) that you need to ask permission from if you want to re-use it. It doesn’t matter whether a creator makes something freely available or not, copyright still applies (if I had a penny for every time someone has said to me, ‘oh it was on the internet, so it’s fine to just re-use it’ …)

Tracking down the copyright holder can be really difficult, and potentially time consuming. Often you will think you know who to ask and then find that you are actually referred elsewhere, so you need to allow plenty of time for the process of acquiring permissions. Where you need to acquire rights from others, you need to ensure you acquire as broad a range of rights as you are likely to need to disseminate your work in the way that you have planned. People granting rights tend to license narrowly, so you may find it is not possible to acquire the rights you need, in which case you will need a back-up plan.

There are certain circumstances in which you can use other people’s work without the need for permissions clearance, e.g. very old content where copyright has expired, items licensed under an open license, or items covered under a copyright exception (see http://www.ipo.gov.uk/ for more information) but anything else you include in your work will require permission from the rights holder.

How do you as a rights professional help authors navigate this minefield? 
I offer bespoke one-to-one consultations to advise authors on specific issues, and support them through the process. For example, if someone needs to clear a lot of third party rights, I can help them review which items should be cleared and the best way to go about doing so or, if an author has had an offer from someone who wants to re-use their content, I can advise on appropriate remuneration and license terms.

I also offer training sessions, which cover the basic principles of copyright and the principles of acquiring and licensing rights. I can recommend other rights professionals, who will carry out licensing and acquisition work on an author’s behalf to manage complicated licensing opportunities, or for those who simply don’t have the time or the inclination to give it a go themselves.

What trends do you see emerging in rights and intellectual property that self-published authors need to be aware of?
There are lots of developments in this area at the moment, particularly around copyright. There is new legislation coming into force in the UK over the course of this year which broadens the scope of the current copyright exceptions. There are also copyright reviews going on in Europe and across the globe. The running theme seems to be the question of whether copyright is fit for purpose in the digital age, with creators, publishers, intermediaries and users across the creative industries all having different perspectives! These sorts of reviews are bound to continue over the next few years and I think we will see the publishing industry increasingly finding ways of ensuring that copyright isn’t a barrier in the digital age, to avoid the threat of further legislation.

One example of this from the UK creative industries is The Copyright Hub (www.copyrighthub.co.uk). The Hub aims to facilitate simplified, more automated rights clearance processes. There will be lots of exciting developments as the creative industries work with the Hub to realise this ambition – before too long, we should be able to get instant on-line clearance for copyright content, instead of having to wait weeks or months to even get just an initial response!

Open Access (essentially making content available for free) is now a widespread means of delivering content, especially in the academic sector. I expect Open Access models to really boom over the next few years, and to expand beyond academic publishing. Currently the predominant means of licensing content under an OA model is via Creative Commons, but I think we will see a growing range of flexible licensing mechanisms emerge over the next few years to support OA publishing, which can only be good news for creators.

On-line piracy and infringement is just a fact of life these days and I think we will see growing levels of sophistication from dedicated pirates who are more determined than ever to ‘liberate’ the world’s information. As they get more sophisticated in their methods, so too will those trying to stop them, and perhaps also the legislation underpinning their efforts.

Clare Hodder is a Rights and Licensing Consultant with over 15 years’ experience in the publishing industry. Formerly Chair of the UK Publishers Association’s Academic and Professional Copyright Committee and Associate Director of Rights at Palgrave Macmillan, she focuses on finding practical solutions to copyright and licensing issues for creators and publishers. Find her on LinkedIn: Clare Hodder.

Tags: rights | books | permissions


This entry was posted on 26 August 2014 at 16:06 and is filed under publishing. You can leave a response here.

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