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August 15, 2012


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This is a very funny post, and an exchange that is all-too-familiar. Thanks for sharing it. I remember the surprise/shock/pain that I felt when I learned that anyone would ask to be paid for me to publicize a small excerpt of their work more broadly; it seemed completely backwards to me. (This, in turn, reminds me of the first time that I rented an apartment in NYC. It was advertised as a "fourth floor walk-up," which I assumed--because it was mentioned in the ad--was a good thing.)

Tamara Piety

This is funny and depressing all at once.

Bill Turnier

I suggest that you write the author telling him/her that you would like to include his/her work, enclose a copy of the correspondence and tell the author you will be using a substitute piece by another author because of the unco-operative reaction of the publisher and cc the publisher. Then see what happens.

Barbara Fister

The author will probably be horrified, puzzled, or angry, but won't probably have a single thing they can do about it, unless they managed to hold onto some right to say "uh,no" or can prove that the publisher doesn't actually have the rights they are claiming. (Sometimes publishers act as if they have rights they never actually acquired because now they do acquire them but weren't so organized in the past; quite a few claims in the Georgia State case were throw out because Oxford and Cambridge couldn't prove they owned rights they were claiming.) Moral of the story: don't publish without reading the fine print unless you don't care whether anyone actually uses your work.

Peter Yu

It's the other way round. Authors don't need to "prove that the publisher doesn't actually have the rights they are claiming." Instead, the publisher has to prove that it has obtained the claimed rights. If I were the author, I would grant permission right away. If was unsure whether I had given away my rights, because I no longer had the author's contract, I would ask the publisher for a copy.

It may be a good idea for authors to start insisting on retaining copyright in all their academic works (other than books). I've had this policy for more than a decade, and so far no publisher has ever said no. For some established publishers, it did take some time and effort to negotiate. But it's much better to spend time and energy to negotiate up front than spending the same or more amount of time and energy to obtain permission down the road.


University presses are one of the few businesses around that think that when demand goes down, price should go up. Sometimes people tell me that the people running the presses are experts, so the fact that their practices seem so nuts must just be an appearance- there must be something rational behind it. The fact that they are pretty much all doing horribly seems to suggest that that's not so, though.

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