John Kay is upset. To say the least. Why? Against whom? Well, here are the first lines of his article dated Oct. 5th, 2004:
"My sceptical article on copyright in June provoked a furious reaction from industry lobbyists. Some correspondents even emphasised the personal benefit I derive from the protection of my intellectual property. So I was intrigued to receive a standard form contract for an article from a leading publisher.
The company seeks the exclusive right to produce, publish, store or copy the article, or any derivative of it, throughout the universe, and in every form or format now known or hereafter invented. So eat your heart out, extra terrestrials, if you have one: even if I acquire the capacity to communicate my ideas to you telepathically, I have relinquished the right. Do not expect to hear from me on the other side: this commitment extends for 70 years after my death...." To be continued here
This is an interesting piece indeed which raises the whole issue of the business, hence legal, relationship of an author to his or her publisher. Having a book published, especially by a leading publishing house, is a flattering experience. Having myself (co)-authored and published books, I know the feeling. However, the thrill of being published should not prevent the author from aiming at signing a balanced contract. An author contract is nothing but a portfolio of rights that are (theoretically) going to be monetized by the one (the publisher) to whom they are assigned. In other words, these rights are options on various future businesses (among other things digital, movie, copy, education etc...) that may or may not materialize.
These options should be ex-ante assigned to the one who is best placed and best motivated to try to have them one day exercised. This is why authors should look at these rights/options carefully and discuss with the publisher if and how they are going to be monetized. Indeed, it would be a strange idea to give up rights to a publisher who does not intend to take advantage of them.
This does not mean that the contract negotiation is deemed to be conflictual. Exactly the opposite! The idea is to make sure that any "business" opportunity will be given serious consideration.
Blogs are a vivid example of why this new balanced relationship is indeed badly needed. Usually the digital rights are viewed as derivative rights. The primary right being the one associated to having the book published in a Gutenberg format. Now, more and more books are drawn from blogs which means that the digital format came first. This is good news by the way since it means that the forthcoming book has already established its reputation in the so-called blogosphere. Think for instance of David Weinberger and his recently published "Small Pieces Loosely joined". Weinberger made an intensive use of a blog to write his book. So, talking about a primary right and a derivative right is just like debating about who comes first, the chicken or the egg.
Punchline: Next time you want your book to be published, look before you leap!