My stats notes are getting too long to distribute using the university printers. A publisher wants to turn them into a printed book, but I want to keep control of the electronic distribution of my work. How should I approach this situation?
posted by mixing to education (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
For the last few years I've been teaching an "intro stats for social science" style class using R as the software, and going into a lot more detail on foundational topics (e.g., probability theory, Bayesian vs frequentist inference, etc) than is typical for such classes. It's a tricky teaching exercise to get right, since very few undergrad social science students come to the class with the right kind of training, and I've been using my own lecture notes to make sure that the class runs properly. Until now, I've been distributing the notes both as a pdf, and as a course reader that is produced by the University printers. However, my notes have reached about 500 pages in length, and are getting a little too big to be practical to distribute as a course reader.
One suggestions I've been encouraged to pursue is to publish the notes as a book. This is a little problematic, since the notes aren't good enough yet (in my opinion) to warrant a "proper" book. Nevetheless, I've been talking to a publisher, and what they've suggested is that I go through their "custom publication" department, which more or less means that they take the pdf I send them and publish that, with very little additional work done by them. Because they do so little work, they can justify very small print runs.
This sounds great, but the problem is that the publisher wants to obtain the copyright before printing the notes. The terms of their standard contract are a little worrying. If they own copyright, my understanding is that I only retain those rights that are expressly included in the contract. And there appear to be no terms in the contract that say anything about electronic distribution rights. For instance, I want to be able to post pdfs on my webpage for the students to download. After all, one of the big advantages to using R as the software is that it's free. I'd like to make an electronic version of the book freely available. Similarly, there doesn't seem to be anything in there that allows me to switch publishers if I want to do so later on, once the notes are actually good enough to warrant a "proper" book. As far as I can see, any future versions would count as derivative works, and I don't see that the contract currently gives me a lot of freedom in that area.
(1) What exactly should I be asking for before I sign any agreement? Broadly speaking, what I want is to (a) retain electronic distribution rights over the work (including, potentially, the right to sell the electronic version), and (b) not get locked into this publisher if I ever want a real book.
(2) Have you had any experiences along these lines? What did you wish you'd asked about?
(3) Should I obtain legal advice before I sign, and if so, from whom? I feel a bit annoyed that I should have to do this: the book isn't really intended to be sold for profit yet, but the very fact that I have to bring in a publisher seems to require me to obtain (possibly expensive) legal advice. And if do go looking for legal advice, how would I find someone appropriate? In theory I could talk to the University lawyers, but if I've learned anything from previous experience, it's that the University lawyers can't be trusted: *I'm* not their client, and I have no reason to believe they will give advice in my interests.
(4) Earlier distribution of the notes online was not on the open web: it was via the University intranet. Should I post my version of the notes to the open web before I sign anything? It's kind of tempting to do so, and it would make me feel better, but I worry that will just complicate any contract that I sign.
(5) Can you think of an alternative way to resolve this situation?
Additional information, in case it is relevant
- The publishing contract will be under Australian law.
- The author royalty in their contract is 15% of publisher net (previously I've not taken any money for the notes)
- The publisher would likely charge $70 or so for the book; the (poorer quality) notes I've been distributing are about $30.
- The notes have an R package associated with them, released under the GPL. The copyright statement that I wrote for the notes makes clear that the book and the package should be treated as distinct works, so that the GPL distribution rights for the package don't get entangled with the copyright issues associated with the book.
- I've been pretty draconian with copyright so far. The copyright notice on the earlier versions of the book was pretty explicit in forbidding any redistribution by my students or the creation of any derivative works. I may relax this later.
- The sales people I've spoken to seem pretty okay with me keeping control over electronic copies, which is encouraging, but that's not the same thing as getting the lawyers to agree.