End of February Victoria Strauss of the ‘Writer Beware’ blog published an informative and interesting warning about the copyright claiming on edits by a publisher. Thank you very much, Victoria, for all your hard work, your research and your willingness to share all these red flags with us!
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
It’s not super-common, but I do see it from time to time in contracts that I review, primarily from smaller presses: a publisher explicitly claiming ownership of the editing it provides, or making the claim implicitly by reverting rights only to the original manuscript submitted by the author.
Are there legal grounds for such a claim? One would think that by printing a copyright notice inside a published book, and registering copyright in the author’s name or encouraging the author to do so, publishers are implicitly acknowledging that there is not. It’s hard to know, though, because it doesn’t seem to have been tested in the courts. There’s not even much discussion of the issue. Where you do find people talking about it, it’s in the context of editors as independent contractors, such as how authors hiring freelancers should make sure they own the editor’s work product, or how freelance editors might use a claim of copyright interest as leverage in payment disputes.
In 2011, Romance Writers of America published a brief legal opinion on its website (still on the website, but unfortunately no longer accessible by the public), indicating that the claim would probably not prevail in court. But that’s the only legal discussion I’ve been able to find.
The legal ambiguity of a copyright claim on editing is good reason to treat it as a publishing contract red flag. But that’s not all.
It’s not standard industry practice. No reputable publisher that I know of, large or small, deprives the author of the right to re-publish the final edited version of their book, either in its contracts or upon rights reversion. One might argue that in pre-digital days, this wasn’t something publishers needed to consider–books, once reverted, were rarely re-published–whereas these days it’s common for authors to self-publish or otherwise bring their backlists back into circulation. But publishers haven’t been slow to lay claim to the new rights created by the digital revolution. If there were any advantage to preventing writers from re-publishing their fully-edited books, you can bet it would have become common practice. It hasn’t.
To read the entire blog post go to: