On the Humanist list, someone asked a couple of days ago what to do about a publisher who insisted on a clearly excessive surrendering of rights. Bob Kraft made a reply that I thought merits repeating, so with his permission I am doing so here:

I’ve found most publishers to be flexible, and willing to adapt to reasonable revisions requested by author or editor. My advice, in descending order of importance (sort of), is:

  1. Never give away your right to hold the copyright.
  2. Never give away your right to your electronic version and subsequent revisions (many publishers still don’t think of this sort of “publication”).
  3. If for some reason, you must give over print copyright, specify conditions under which you automatically recover it — e.g. if the book goes out of print for three years or more, or if the publisher acts contrary to the contract.
  4. If for some reason you must give over electronic rights, specify for how long (e.g. 3 years), and what sort of uses are permissible (e.g. CD-ROM, internet).
  5. Specify that if the publisher creates or authorizes a situation in which additional profit is realized by the republication, translation, reuse, etc., of your work, you receive an appropriate percentage of that profit.

Basically, don’t give up your rights to your work except possibly for a limited time and under strict controls. And be very aware of the actual and potential value of controlling electronic publication as well as print publication.

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