Thursday, December 8, 2011

Editing and rights

RWA reports that at least one publisher (let's guess which) is suggesting that authors who get their rights back shouldn't use the edited book as that's a collaboration.  (Let me say quickly that RWA's position-- they got an attorney brief-- doesn't support this at all.) 

This is pretty pernicious. (For one thing, the finished book is usually copyrighted NOT to the publisher or editor, but just the writer.)  RWA suggests that everyone in this position should check their contract's reversion clause (none of mine, btw, say anything like that).

RWA does point out that material actually written by the publisher's employees, like the back cover copy, might be better left unused. (And the cover.)

Anyone have experience with this sort of situation?

I'm getting the idea that everyone wants to get yet another piece of the pie.



Sarah J. MacManus said...

Just my opinion, but if the rights have reverted, that means the publisher has had their chance to make money from the book. Whether or not the author decides to use those edits should be entirely up to them.

Adrian said...

There's a difference between fiction and non-fiction. I just sampled some technical books and textbooks near my desk. Four out of five have the publisher listed as the copyright holder. The fifth had the author.

For fiction, it's an interesting assertion that the editor is a collaborator and thus a co-author of the work. Given that the copyright notice lists only the author and the registration in the Library of Congress lists only the author and all the precedent says it's the author's work, it would seem a difficult argument.

Then again, copyright notices are technically optional (and are often flagrantly wrong, e.g., listing the following year as the copyright date). Registration is also optional (at least until you want to bring suit). (Do publishers still register with the copyright office on behalf of the author? Do indie authors even bother?) So perhaps all that is moot, and it would come down an analysis of how significant the editor's changes and suggestions were in order to determine co-authorship. Nasty.

Julie Harrington said...

It's ridiculous. It's a publishers job to (and in their best interest) to edit books and shape them for the best sales. No book would ever hit the shelves (cyber or otherwise) unless an editor looked it over and made any needed changes for marketability. That doesn't make them authors any more than a music label who lets a group record in their studios makes that studio a singer, or an artist's agent who says, "Hey, you ever think about painting a series of these in blue?" makes them a painter.

I know that the industry is tough right now, but all this is going to do is shove fiction writers more firmly toward epublishing and self-publishing, the VERY thing traditional publishers are lamenting over when it comes to sales and the future of publishing.

This helps no one and hurts everybody.


Anonymous said...

When I had some titles revert, I was reminded by the publisher that the "final edited version" and the cover art was theirs. Since they hadn't done much editing on it, I didn't sweat it, just submitted my original version to the new house. Now that I think about it, you're right. The "final edited version" was copy-righted to me. It seems that if I had been willing to fight it, it would have been difficult for them to argue since they acknowledged, in writing, that I was the copyright holder and was the one one who actually made or approved the changes to my book. I'm not sure how the contract addressed the issue--like I said, I just shrugged and went on since it hadn't received much editing anyway.