A scholar I know in another field (Hi Dad) recently asked his publisher for an author agreement that would let him retain his copyright while the publisher retained non-exclusive rights to do whatever the publisher needed to do, now and forever. The response was interesting to me because one of the biggest questions was “Why would you want these rights, anyway? We don’t understand.”
This was actually the first time I’ve thought about that question in that way. Of course nobody’s planning to take the same volume to another publisher, and realistically a whole huge volume isn’t something normally republished in PDF online, either. So realistically, what might a scholar reply to this question?
Here’s what I came up with this morning, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.
You are not being paid, so it makes sense to retain ownership of the thing you produce. Further, if you repurpose your material in the future, it will save you the time and expense of seeking copyright permissions to use your own work. You give many presentations that might benefit from the inclusion of the material you produce, you teach courses where you might want to reproduce or display portions of your work. You may want to distribute a “good parts version” at a conference (which would further your goal to share knowledge widely and would also be a good teaser for people who might have been on the fence about buying the full work). In addition, once the publication goes “out of print” you’ll have recourse to find a new avenue for distribution. You are certainly not trying to limit the publisher’s work in any way, but you would prefer not to have them limit your work.
I can imagine a clause in the contract (though I’ve never seen an example) where you also agree not to produce a directly competing product. You’d want to word that carefully so that they couldn’t claim breech of contract with other, similar scholarship that you would produce with or without owning the copyright to this particular work. Realistically, you’re not going to take this work and re-publish it on your own to compete with their version of the volume, but they may want that in writing.
I also shared my ACRL author agreement with him (still my gold standard for author agreements).
I’ve only ever published with library types, so I don’t have to articulate all this stuff when I ask for a non-exclusive agreement — it’s kind of built into our profession. Have you had similar conversations? What resonated well?