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Rolling on the River - 2/28/2012 -

It's important to know your strategy for navigating the sometimes murky waters of copyright agreements and publishing contracts.

By Apryl Motley, CAE

Association Media & Publishing Lunch & Learn ("Contracts, Copyrights, and Trademarks, Oh Boy!) presenter and sponsor Jefferson C. Glassie, Esq., likens the publishing process to a river: "Its not always easy to know where that river starts, but you definitely want to start at the beginning.

Glassie, a partner with Washington, DC-based law firm Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, describes contracts and intellectual property provisions as the flood protection that association publishers need at various stages in the publishing process. He also stresses the importance of their knowing how to navigate contractual terms and legal concepts.

Among those that he highlighted were distinguishing between copyright transfers and licenses and specifying all rights an association may want to content now and in the future.

Transfers vs. Licenses

According to Glassie, copyrights can only be transferred in two ways: 1) under the work-for-hire doctrine and 2) written assignment or transfer signed by the copyright owner. He indicates that often authors are more likely to assign rights to scholarly journals, but will only give licenses to magazines, newsletters, and other publications.

License basically means permission, and it can be limited, non-exclusive, in writing or verbal, expressed or implied. However, if the license is exclusive, it must be in writing. In addition, if authors only grant association publishers licenses rather than fully transferring their copyrights, the organizations still own the publications in their entirety (i.e. as a compilation).

One concern that Lunch & Learn attendees expressed was their ability to publish older content electronically, even if their organizations had not originally obtained rights or licenses to do so. Generally speaking, Glassie says that it is best to contact these authors to obtain licenses for electronic rights. He also points out that moving forward, association publishers should obtain broad licenses from authors that enable them to use content electronically.

Specifying Rights

"Be clear about which rights youre talking about when you request them, Glassie advises. This is the best way for association publishers to maintain good working relationships with authors, editors, and others involved in their publishing efforts.

For example, association publishers should ensure that they own or have rights to editor contributions. Other rights that should be specified include reprints and online access. Also related to the assignment of rights is the scope of distribution, such as through content aggregators. As a general rule, its best to be sure all rights are specified in writing.

Along with specifying rights, publisher agreements or contracts should indicate whether authors or editors are entitled to any compensation (i.e. royalties) from the sale of subsidiary rights. It is also important to include provisions for the reversion of rights at the end of the term of publishing agreements.

Glassie summed up all these distinctions and provisions as a means for association publishers to "plan to succeed even if the relationship fails.

Apryl Motley, CAE, is a freelance writer and communications consultant and a member of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this Lunch & Learn for our members who were unable to attend.


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