Sigh. Another crappy publishing deal. This firm wants me to write a 500-word encyclopaedia entry and assign copyright entirely to them, with the right to re-edit in the future. And what do they offer in return?

A £30 book coupon and access to a paywall website.

I just can’t see why I would find this offer at all attractive. I don’t need the book coupon or the key to that paywall. (Indeed, the paywall thing is simply like getting a copy of a book you contribute to, only much cheaper for them.) It wouldn’t improve my CV noticeably to publish 500 words under this firm’s imprint or under the volume’s somewhat famous head editor’s byline. 15 years ago it might have.

So they offer me nothing I want, but they demand a gift of something I own – my copyright. And the right to fuck around with my writing in the future!

(a) The Contributor hereby assigns to the Publisher for the full term of copyright and all extensions and renewals thereof the entire copyright in the Contribution and any revisions thereof, including but not limited to the right, by itself or with others, throughout the world, to print, publish, republish, transmit and distribute the Contribution and to prepare, publish, transmit and distribute derivative works based thereon, in all languages and in all media of expression now known or later developed, and to license or permit others to do so.

(b) The Publisher shall have the right to make such revisions, deletions or additions to the Contribution that the Publisher may deem advisable in the interest of space and uniformity of style and presentation, provided that the accuracy of the text is not impaired.

I’m turning them down. They’re a major profit-making company, not some academic society. And clearly academic writing isn’t a marketable commodity. I often write for free. But I resent having to pay a publisher in kind so they can sell my stuff.

Comments

  1. #1 Don
    May 7, 2012

    Martin: As we say over here, “tell them to put their offer where the sun doesn’t shine.” Publish your stuff with open access groups or societies. Regards, Don

  2. #2 SM
    May 7, 2012

    For a slightly different problem, have a look at what the association of Canadian universities is trying to drag its members into. They are trying to make it a violation of contract to store digital copies of copyright material on private machines (and databases of articles aside, the Canadian interlibrary loan system for articles has gone over to emailing PDFs, since it saves both libraries postage and processing). http://caut.ca/pages.asp?page=1079

  3. #3 Roger Pearse
    May 7, 2012

    Well said. The structural greed in the academic publishing industry is ridiculous.

    But actually, in this one case, of an encyclopedia, I can actually see why they want your copyright on this; because they want to have the copyright of the whole encyclopedia. Otherwise, every time they want to do anything, they have to negotiate with 200 contributors, some of whom may be dead or do a dog-in-the-manger.

    You see, I’ve just had a nasty experience myself, so I can see why they want it tied down. I’m reprinting a ancient Greek text, in order to print a translation, and so I did a deal with the publisher of the Greek (although it’s absurd that a 1400 text can be under copyright anyway). Then, a year after publication, it turned out that the publisher may not have obtained copyright from the editor, quite by accident. The editor of the text is now trying to gouge me over the rights (not much, but enough to make my life a misery), knowing that I have the book in print and must either face him in court or meet whatever demands he dreams up. It’s a nightmare. I’ve tried going with it, but each time the demands get more. So I’ve been forced today to write to him and dare him to sue me. Yet I did everything possible to avoid the situation! So I can quite see why a publisher wants to avoid it.

    The real problem, perhaps, is copyright itself. If there was no copyright in all this, few of these problems would occur. Except that the Chinese would then reprint the encyclopedia for nothing, and sell it on Amazon!

    Don’t know the answer.

  4. #4 Martin R
    May 7, 2012

    I can certainly see that the publishers’ behavior is rational from several perspectives. What I can’t see is why a rational person would go along with their suggestion. It reminds me of a Nigerian scam. The scammers don’t expect most people to fall for the scam. It’s enough that a few do.

  5. #5 Mu
    May 7, 2012

    At least they offered you a free access to your own writing. I was once contacted by a publisher to do an “interview” on my field, talked with the “writer” for an hour, wondering how someone with so little clue was writing on the subject. Got an “article” based on the stuff I said a couple month later with a request to proofread (aka fix all the stuff she’d misunderstood). Well, those guys avoided the copyright stuff by not giving me any (after all, it was written by the writer), and my special deal was that I would get a 10% discount on their $2,000 “special market report by leading industry experts”. As you might guess, I didn’t cash that coupon.

  6. #6 Martin R
    May 7, 2012

    That was a weird one! I don’t get many interview requests, but when I do I usually ask what the circulation is like and what pay model they use before I agree to talk.

  7. #7 Lassi Hippeläinen
    May 7, 2012

    Does the small print define what “Contribution” means? If you copypaste chapters from other sources and glue them together with a few of your own words here and there, is the Contribution the whole package or just your glue?

    If they expect you to track down all permissions you can politely refuse, because you just don’t have enough time. Give them a list of the sources and let their laywers to the footwork. If they refuse, that’s it. In either case the egg is on their face.

  8. #8 Martin R
    May 7, 2012

    The contract makes it clear that the writing must be original and that any bits & illustrations elsewhence must be cleared.

  9. #9 informania
    May 7, 2012

    :P copypaste chapters?! We’re talking 500 words here, that’s barely half a page; just glue will do!! 30 pounds for those ten minutes of writing ain’t too bad either

  10. #10 Martin R
    May 7, 2012

    They’re not offering me money. They’re offering a pick from their own stock.

  11. #11 joemac53
    May 7, 2012

    I once changed several dozen 5.25 floppies worth of files from PC format onto 3.5 disks in Mac format (or Mac to PC, I forget, I’m an old guy) for a local scientific institution. The request came from one of their librarians, whose child was one of my students. I got to keep the 5.25 floppies.
    When the librarian mentioned that there wasn’t much in the budget to pay me (which I figured), I said “Well, you can take me out for ice cream.”
    The lady flushed red and said “I don’t think we can do that.”
    I got a library card out of the deal

  12. #12 Martin R
    May 7, 2012

    When I get a new library card I always interpret it as a lewd proposition. Librarians love me.

  13. #13 Birger Johansson
    May 7, 2012

    “not offering me money”… -Borrowing inspiration from Pharyngula, I suggest an answer that contains the words “porcupine” “sideways” and “f*ck”.

  14. #14 dhogaza
    May 8, 2012

    I can actually see why they want your copyright on this; because they want to have the copyright of the whole encyclopedia. Otherwise, every time they want to do anything, they have to negotiate with 200 contributors, some of whom may be dead or do a dog-in-the-manger.

    That’s one good reason. Another is that encyclopedia’s are updated, some subject (science and technology) tend to move quickly, and rather than pay for a new article next edition or depend on the original author to edit, they want to be able to tweak it without hassle.

    That wouldn’t bother me if the price were right.

    Of course the price isn’t even close to right, it’s offensive. That’s the real problem IMO.

  15. #15 SM
    May 8, 2012

    Roger: To be fair, creating a new edition of a text is a lot of work (if it wasn’t a major change from an old edition, you could use that). I don’t think its unreasonable that someone who spends long hours with blurry microfilms and 18th century editions and German articles which suggest a variant reading in a hundred-word sentence in note 63 be credited and compensated for their work. Unfortunately, the law can’t prevent someone choosing to be an ass.

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