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Writers and Editors (RSS feed)

Author alert: Reclaim rights on books pubbed 1978 and after

"There is a provision in the 1978 copyright law that allows authors to reclaim rights to their books after 35 years," writes Mike Shatzkin in paragraph 17 of an interesting post about book publishing. "Titles published in 1978 become eligible for reversion, called 'recapture' apparently, starting in 2013. (With logic that is ironically typical of what Congress does when it touches copyright law, older titles are on a slower track for liberation.) Agents are planning for this; publishers will have to deal with it. I am given to understand that publishers can only retain these books for life of copyright by, in effect, reacquiring them."

Read the whole blog post: Some things that were true about publishing for decades aren’t true anymore). Mike Shatzkin describes "recapture" as a "monkey wrench" in what should otherwise be publishers' hidden backlist wealth. At a time when all that backlist COULD be easily, cheaply converted and re-marketed in new formats, authors have a chance to get their copyrights back.

Stay alert, authors! You can lose the right to recapture your copyright if you miss a deadline or don't carefully follow the strict statutory notice requirements. You can also take advantage of this opportunity to "re-sell" rights on a title to the original publisher, for payment of an additional advance. Find yourself a good intellectual property lawyer and do your homework about works published in 1978 and later.

This right may be even especially valuable to songwriters.See, for example, Recapturing Your Copyrights (Nashville Songwriters Association International). "The Copyright Revision Act of 1976 includes a provision granting songwriters the right to recapture the copyrights to their songs. YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT. The copyrights to your songs may not be gone forever. Although the specifics are complicated, generally speaking, songs you signed away after 1978 are eligible to be recaptured after 35 years; songs you signed away before 1978 are eligible to be recaptured after 56 years."

Another important piece: Termination of Book & Music Publishing Copyright Contracts: A Passing Opportunity to Recapture Publishing Rights by copyright lawyer Lloyd J. Jassin (Copylaw, 2010). Jassin writes: "The copyright termination time bomb is ticking away. Starting in 2011 the publishing and entertainment industries will be looking at the possibility thousands of negotiations with copyright owners seeking to recapture their rights. Some call it 'contract bumping.' This powerful 're-valuation mechanism' found in the Copyright Act allows authors (and their heirs) to terminate contracts 35-years after the contract date. The termination right trumps written agreements -- even agreements which state they are in perpetuity. Also known as 'termination' or 'recapture' rights, the deadline for sending termination notices for 1978 grants will begin to expire in 2011." At the end of Jaslow's article is an interesting list of some songs and books for which the writers could ask for rights back.

This does not apply to works for hire.

Songwriters and Authors Unite to Protect Termination Rights. Authors Guild reports (May 3, 2010): Unintended "Gap" in Copyright Law May Affect As Many As 100,000.

A Second Bite of the Apple: A Guide to Terminating Transfers under Section 203 of the Copyright Act by Margo E. Crespin (PDF, Authors Guild)

Copyright Termination is an Author Right: Use it or Lose it . Bad 1970s Style Romance With Your Publisher? Then, End it Now!
How to Get Out of that Abusive Contractual Relationship (Lloyd J. Jassin, CopyLaw 8-16-11)

Copyright Termination: How authors (and their heirs) can recapture their pre-1978 copyrights (attorney Lloyd J. Jassin, Copylaw.com

If the Boss can recover his songs, you can recover your books (e-reads reminds authors that they can recapture copyright and make a better deal on eBooks than their publishers are likely to give them)

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