There is yet another looming problem on the horizon for the publishing industry that is being kept somewhat quiet as of late. This issue is about a change coming to current copyright law. In January 2013, a law that was established in 1978 (read: thirty-five years ago) will take effect; this law states that after thirty-five years of signing with a publisher an author can reclaim their copyrights from that publisher. These reclaimed rights are called “termination rights.”
As if the publishing industry hasn’t been going through enough these days, right?
PaidContent released an article last week that discussed the details of this law as well as its potential effects on the volatile industry. In true Consider fashion, I want to break down the effects in a point/counter-point manner:
The upside of this law is that it benefits the authors: the law was designed to let authors “take another bite of the apple,” aka make more money than their original settlement with their publisher. PaidContent writes, “Congress put it in place to protect young artists who signed away future best sellers for a pittance.” This makes sense because no one really has the foresight to know which works will become bestsellers when contracts are originally signed between authors and publishers.
The downside of this law is that it hurts the publishers: giving copyright back to the original authors denies the publisher from making any more revenue off that author’s work. The biggest impact will be made if or when the many bestselling authors reclaim their rights, authors like Judy Blume and Stephen King (to name two that are eligible to reclaim their rights this coming year).
The laws will function as “use it or lose it,” meaning that if authors don’t capitalize on this opportunity while they are in the window of eligibility, the copyright will remain with the publisher. However, it’s not such an easy process to get these rights back; first of all, there is a complicated process of applying and only a finite window in which authors are eligible to do so. In addition, there is also an expensive, legal process that authors must undergo. Thus, it would seem that it might not be worth it for the books that didn’t quite hit it big to invest the time and money to reclaim rights. In that regard, publishers may not be that affected by this change in copyright.
But here’s the catch: bestselling authors are the breadwinners for publishers. It is the bestsellers that can afford to pay to jump through the hoops and it is the bestsellers that are going to do the most damage to the publishers in terms of losses of revenue.
(Photo by leah the librarian under a Creative Commons License)