How to purchase online publication rights for an out-of-print book?
May 30, 2006 7:30 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to purchase the online publication rights to a book originally published in the 1960s, and long out of print. How do I go about doing this?

Should I go through a lawyer, or just contact the original publisher myself?

Any idea what a fair price would be for the right to put a not-particularly-well known history book on the Internet? Are we talking about hundreds of dollars, or thousands?

The Online Books site has some advice on getting permission to put a book online from the copyright holder, but I'm interested in buying the rights, not just having the copyright holder donate them.
posted by russilwvong to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Contact the copyright holder, tell them what you want to do, and see how much they want. Price will be a function of the value of the work, whether you want an exclusive or non-exclusive right and how much you are expected to profit from the publication online, among other factors. So it is hard to say what the appropriate price might be. I am not sure the publishing industry is yet too comfortable with a lump sum payment for a long term right to publish one of their works. They are in a royalty frame of mind. If you are going to charge customers to view the book then it will be easy. If, as it seems, you want the right to allow free access to the work then negotiations will be more difficult. At some point, preferably sooner rather than later, you will want a lawyer with experience in these areas.
posted by caddis at 7:48 PM on May 30, 2006

I have tracked down the rights to a lot of old books and there is no problem doing it yourself. Contact the last known publisher and ask them who has the rights. Failing that find out who administers the author's estate (assuming the book is still in copyright). It's an hour or two's work at most, unless you hit a dead end, in which case you may need to start being creative. You certainly don't need a lawyer until the negotiations start, at which point an entertainment attorney can be very useful.

Can't help you on the prices, sorry.
posted by unSane at 7:50 PM on May 30, 2006

As I understand it, publishers (sometimes? always?) treat printed rights as separate from online publication rights — at least, they explicitly buy both from the author. So a 1960 book's online publication rights may still be with the author (or their estate, etc.). Or perhaps it's exceedingly murky and would cost you more money to find out who might have the rights than it could possibly be worth to you to have them, thus ensuring that the book remains buried forever. (Me cynical about copyright? Naahhhh...)

IANAL or even very well informed, I just want to bring up the possibility that online publication may involve a different set of rights-holders than reprinting.
posted by hattifattener at 11:43 PM on May 30, 2006

Thanks to everyone for their responses. If I make any progress with this, I'll post updates here.
posted by russilwvong at 12:17 AM on May 31, 2006

It is also possible the book is already in public domain. If published before 1/1/64, the holder would have had to renew the copyright prior to expiration. If they didn't, you can do whatever you like. Easy search page here to find out whether it was renewed. See also.
posted by beagle at 6:18 AM on May 31, 2006

Failing that find out who administers the author's estate....

I was wondering how to find this out. Google turns up this page.
posted by russilwvong at 10:02 AM on May 31, 2006

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