Evan Schnittman at Black Plastic Glasses posted the final chunk of a 3-parter yesterday that contained a real shocker (to me) at the end. The 3-part post shows through Evan’s personal experience that a) we now insist that content come when we want it and how we want it and b) the very existence of that level of content and connectivity choice can, in and of itself, discourage long-form consumption.
OK. True and pretty well-written. But the “news” (to me; I know there’s a world out there that must have been aware of it) at the end is much more startling than the personal reporting and interpretation.
It turns out there is a clause in the 1978 copyright law that allows any author to reclaim any copyright despite any contract with a publisher, simply by serving notice. The copyright can be reclaimed no less than 35 years and no more than 40 years from the book’s original publication. So books published in 1978 can be reclaimed by their authors from 2013-2018.
It would appear that publishers have a new rights-related challenge to consider. While they’re getting all their ducks in a row (and rights in a database) to respond to the orphan challenges that will arise through the Google settlement, they might also be checking their backlist revenue to see if any of it is in jeopardy. And they also might be checking their competitors’ backlists as well, to see if there are titles they should be going after.
In trying to do a fast look at what might be available, I googled for “books published in 1978.” What was interesting was to see that what comes up is all about verticals! It says something to me that this kind of information is already being naturally organized by niche.
The number of books yielding substantial revenue today that are 35 to 40 years old is small, but it looks like a new payday has been set up for those that exist. And because notice of these potential terminations can be given 10 years before the effective date, the Copyright Office has been getting correspondence on this matter since 2003. They have even been modifying the rules for those notices.
According to the Copyright Office’s material on the web site, it appears a deadline is not too distant. Notice must be served “not more than ten nor less than two years” before the “effective date.” So if one published a book on February 1, 1978 and wanted to get the rights back on February 1, 2013 (the earliest possible “effective date”), they would have to serve notice by February 1, 2011.
One wonders how many agents are aware of this law and are preparing for it. Certainly the big publishers must be. I am just finding it a bit surprising that the existence of this looming opportunity for authors has not arisen with all the recent conversation about copyright arising out of the Google settlement.
Don’t forget May 28 at 11 am at Javits Center when I’ll be talking about how today’s publishers can “Stay Ahead of the Shift.” What’s the shift? It’s from IT to eyeballs, from monetizing content to monetizing community. It will be 20 years in the making; a subtext of this speech is “a lot happens in 20 years.” Think about the book business 20 years ago; or the newspaper business…