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Navigating Copyright Agreements

I’ve been learning more and more about copyright ever since I landed in the group on campus that wrote our copyright policy. But I’ve almost exclusively learned about copyright from the content user’s perspective rather than the content creator’s perspective. Well, lately I’ve begun to learn about that other side of copyright law.

A few months ago I was asked to write a chapter for an upcoming ACRL publication. Right away I asked, “Can I have a co-author, and can we put our finished product into our institutional repository?” The answers came back in the affirmative, which was very encouraging all around.

Then we got our copyright agreements in the mail and the cover letter said, “This form grants you the copyright to your work, allows you to use your work elsewhere after the original publication, and allows deposit in your institutional repository.” Woohoo! But….

The agreement itself said, “…. the Author hereby grants and assigns to the Publisher … all copyrights therein or relating thereto…” Hmmmm…

Further down, the agreement says that “Publisher hereby grants to Author a royalty-free license to publish the Work in any book of which the Author is the author or editor, provided the Work is identified as having first been published in the original publication cited above. The Publisher also grants to the Author the right to file the work in their institutional repository.” So that’s very, very nice, but it’s not the same as keeping our copyrights.

So, after talking it over with some people in the LSW chat room, I asked the publisher if I’d gotten the right agreement. It’s been known to happen that there is more than one possible agreement and that the author receives the wrong one.

But it turns out I got the right one. ACRL’s response was very encouraging, though. They said they’ve never been asked about this before and wondered what would be better. So I suggested removing that bit about “you get to keep your copyrights” from the cover letter, and then adding a clause saying that copyrights revert to authors X number of months or years after the book officially goes out of print. Sound reasonable? I hope they think so.

Meanwhile, I’ve suggested to our copyright group on campus that we should add a “what to think about before you sign away your rights” facet to our copyright training.

[Update: It looks like ACRL thinks this is reasonable! They are even thinking of asking their lawyers to draw up something even more permissive.]

[Update 2: They’re thinking of making the agreement explicit that they own the copyright, but we get to use the work in any old way we want as long as we cite it as having been published first in this ACRL volume. Sounds wonderful to me!]

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  1. John Overholt John Overholt

    adding a clause saying that copyrights revert to authors X number of months or years after the book officially goes out of print.

    It sounds like ACRL is willing to be reasonable on this, but you should be aware (if you aren’t already) that some commercial publishers want to consider books available through Print-On-Demand to be perpetually in print, eliminating the possibility of the copyright reverting to the author.

  2. Iris Iris

    Yes, and I completely understand that they may want to retain copyright to do this or future editions or… lots of things. But it’s wonderful that they’re at least exploring the possibility, especially since I (at least) am not being paid for my contribution. If I were being paid I’d figure I had even less right to the work.

    I must say, they’ve been extremely helpful and interested. I didn’t expect to have such an easy time talking to them about this stuff.

  3. Iris Iris

    Doing what, making myself into a thorn in the flesh. ;)

    I’m just glad all this came up at a time when I knew more about copyright than I did a year ago, and when the ACRL people were in such a mood to explore these ideas.

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