Writing Contract

Obtaining the rights to published works as a publisher

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In the United States, the law is codified in Title 17 of the United States Code as the Copyright Act of 1976 (as modified). Copyright law grants to writers and creators of their works exclusive rights for using those works for a set period of time. Authors are incentivized to keep producing new works by virtue of these legal safeguards. The law grants the creator sole ownership of the work created. Authorial works preserved in any permanent and perceptible media at the time of production are entitled to copyright protection for the duration of the author's life plus seventy years.  The person(s) who created the work normally maintain the copyright to that work unless it is a work made for hire or the artist transfers those rights to someone else. 

Copyright-protected works include the following:

Works of literature, music, and lyrics; plays, with or without music; pantomimes and dance routines; paintings, drawings, and sculptures; films, videos, and other audiovisual works; sound recordings; and buildings.

Most publishers have their authors sign a contract before they publish a book or article.  These contracts are legally enforceable and may restrict or grant certain rights and liability to the publisher as well as the author. The author's right to keep some or all of the copyrights to their work should be negotiable in the publishing agreement.

General Practices of the industry 

Most of the time, publishers get copyrights for published works by laying out in their publishing deal that they will get a lump sum and/or a percentage of the sales. The author could also give the printer a license to use the work. It's also possible for the publication to buy the copyright and give the author a limited license to use the work again. Finally, the editor could put out the work as an Open Education Resource (OER), for instance, with a Creative Commons license.

An overview of Various Publishing Agreements 

As a publisher it is important to be aware of the different publishing deals out there and choose the one that fits your needs best for now and in the future. There are different rules for each type of work that is being published, such as a book, a book chapter, a journal article, a conference paper, or some other type of study output. The choice of whether to put the study behind a paywall or make it available to everyone will also change the terms of the agreement and the final license for the work.

Generally, a publishing contract  will include terms like

  • When the book will be out in stores
  • The way the work will be released (online, in print, or both)
  • How many hard copies are going to be made?
  • If the author is owed any income, how is that money going to be split between the author and the publisher? When will the author be paid?

Copyright transfer deal.

When people write journal papers, they often give the journal or publisher the copyright. In contrast, when a book is published, the author usually gives the printer permission to use the work. When an author signs a copyright transfer deal, they give the publisher all of their rights as an author and owner of the copyright. If the author wants to do something like this, they may need to get approval from the publisher first:

  • Put in an Open Access version in a library for academics.
  • They should put the written work on their website.
  • Let your coworkers know about the written work.
  • Use the written work in their classes.

The publisher might give the author some rights back that let them do things like the ones above. Most of the time, copyright assignments are permanent, unless the deal says otherwise.As long as the author gives the publisher the right to use the work, the publisher can also make deals with other people to use it. The publisher could, for instance, give permission for your work to be added to a website that people pay to access, or they could set up a translation.

Exclusive right  Agreement 

In this kind of agreement, the author gives the publisher certain rights over their work for as long as the contract lasts. This publisher exclusively has the rights, which may include the right to sublicense, print, communicate, and distribute the work online. The contract may last for a limited time frame, or it may last forever. If the license gives the publisher the right to sublicense, they can give the rights to a third party, like letting another publisher print the work in a different country. 

Nonexclusive Agreement

Unlike an exclusive licence, the author may sign a non-exclusive agreement which means that the author can give  rights to another party or publisher. In the case of a non-exclusive license, the author can still give other companies permission to use their work. 

Creative Commons license

As a publisher, if you plan to release the work under an open license, like a Creative Commons license, then in that case anyone can share the work as long as they follow the rules of the license. The publisher is likely to ask for the right to print the work first. This could be under an exclusive or non-exclusive publishing agreement. 

General FAQS

Can a publisher use a work without getting rights if it fits under "fair use"?

Under the doctrine of fair use, certain non-commercial uses of copyrighted works are permitted without the owner's consent. Fair use, however, is difficult to define and is typically determined on a case-by-case basis.

 What happens if a publisher violates copyright law?

Infringing on someone else's copyright can result in monetary damages, injunctions orders, and criminal penalties. For publishers to avoid trouble with the law, adherence to copyright regulations and acquiring the necessary rights is essential.

Can authors revoke their permission to publish at any time?

Authors in the United States have the legal authority to revoke copyright transfers once a specific amount of time has passed (usually between 35 and 40 years from the date of the transfer).

Yoshita Gwalani

I am distinguished and licensed attorney renowned for expertise in Intellectual Property (IP) law, holding a coveted master's degree, with a specialized focus on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), data privacy, and technology law, I am a dedicated legal professional committed to providing invaluable counsel to start-ups and clients alike. My formidable forte is legal research and writing, offering clients comprehensive and strategic solutions in the ever-evolving landscape of intellectual property and technology legal matters.

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