Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Saturday Night Copyright

Because No One Stops Here On Saturday…

So I thought I would pass on a web site with a series of copyright lectures. This was suggested to me by A.B. Alvarez. They are a series of long lectures, like over forty of them, by Professor William Fisher and are offered under the Creative Commons License.

Now copyright is a tough, dry area of the law for most people and Professor Fisher does not help that much. But he has some amazing charts and connections that work fantastically. So file this for next time you have a copyright question.

I spent some time watching a couple of them, including one of the videos on Work For Hire to see if the Professor agrees with me and my attorney. Fantastically, he does, and even pounded home a few more points on my side from a Supreme Court case I had forgotten about.

For those of you who haven’t been around a while, I have been talking about filing to get my Star Trek, Men in Black, Spider-Man and some gaming novel copyrights back.

I signed those contracts as both “Work for Hire” contracts and also “all rights” contracts. So how would I get them back?

Because New York publishers are dumber than posts, that’s why. And I know copyright law.

I would not be able to use any of the trademarked aspects of Trek, Men in Black, or any of the other media projects. That is a given, but I can easily take out those trademarks and have full novels. Novels that I wrote and completely own.

Or the publishing companies can make me a new offer and I can make more money that way.

If you want to understand how I can get “all rights” and Work for Hire books back, first go to one of those videos that is about Work for Hire. For your information, I worked at home, on my own computer. I was not an employee of any traditional publisher. It even stated so in the contracts. Oops.

So under the law, there was no way those contracts were work for hire, even though I signed them.

On how I can get them back from the “all rights” section, go to Section Six of the lectures and watch “Protective Provisions” video. This explains an interesting assumption in the law that authors are dumber than posts and need an escape. (He explains at length how that thinking came about in the law.)

Section 203 of the code allows authors to terminate a copyright assignment 35 years after the assignment (contract) in a five year window. Rights automatically revert on the date picked inside the window and the author must follow notice requirements. Authors can not sign this away.

The professor makes this very, very clear about minute 20 of that “Protective Provisions” video. Even has a nifty graph on how that is done and who can do the reversion.

So I signed my first Star Trek and Spider-Man books in 1991/92. Men in Black not far after. 1992 plus 35 years is 2027. I have a five year window starting in 2027.

I can give notice of this termination date inside that five year window 2 to 10 years ahead of the termination date.

So the window is open right now for me to give notice to Pocket Books and others that I will be terminating those copyrights.  I am going to hold off a few more years so that I have a lot of books to give notice on and then me and my attorney will have a field day.

No worries, I will not sign a nondisclosure agreement as I do this, so I will keep all writers informed of these rights. I am sure that Pocket and others will not be happy and I will end up in court. Should be very interesting. Stay tuned.

And if you want an easier way to learn the meaning of copyright and how writers can use it (than taking a semester course from a law professor), jump into the Licensing Learn Along on Teachable and you get the Magic Bakery classic workshop included.

Stay tuned in coming years, this will be fun.




  • Céline Malgen

    It’s gonna be a fascinating process to follow, you fighting for your rights. Thank you once again for always being so open!

    • dwsmith

      I may not have to fight at all, since once the notices are given, the process can’t be waved by me or anyone. I don’t have to do anything if I file the notices correctly. This is happening all the time now in music and mostly the artists are just getting more money from the big companies. Sort of like a nice second dive into the money pool. If they make decent offers for the books, meaning the same as their first offers, I’ll sell the books again to them, no issue in most cases. (grin)

  • Frank Richter


    Just so I understand that right. There are two options how this is gonna go:

    a) they make another offer, continue to sell those books and you get more money.

    b) you get the copyright back and can use them yourself.

    But b) is where I don’t understand completely. You said you can just take the trademarks out and have full novels.

    How would that work with a Star Trek novel? Would you have to rename Captain Picard to Captain Ricard? So in effect it wouldn’t be a Star Trek novel anymore, but a sci-fi novel about the Starship Canterprise under Captain Ricard, but the plot is exactly the same, you just have to change some names and places maybe?

    Or do you mean something else with “I can just take the trademarks out”

    • dwsmith

      Frank, you got it. Only I would move it a little farther away with the names (grin) and maybe redesign the bridge some. But yes, copyright is the form of how the words are on the page, and that is what I would be regaining. They control the trademarks of the ship name and some other stuff, which I would not use (Actually there is a case to be made that I might be able to since I would own the copyright of the form, but I wouldn’t. No point in fighting a second trademark case. (grin))

      So you got it.

  • James Palmer

    This is very interesting, and you’ve written about this before. I never would have thought of getting the rights back on work for hire books that feature trademarked characters and worlds. Sounds like a great way to get them to purchase them again. The problem for you would be what you’d have left after stripping out every trademarked character name and copyrighted concept. Wouldn’t people just consider these a pastiche of Spider-Man or Deep Space Nine or whatever, and not want to read it? Or is the end goal only to resell them to the publisher?

    • dwsmith

      James, sure, they would be the same and I would put on the copyright page “Formally published as Star Trek: Whatever” so readers who might have read the Star Trek book would not be surprised. And you would be amazed at how easy it is to take out trademark characters and ships and so on. Might take me a day for an entire novel to run through it. But I would do it, and yes, one goal is to resell it. I made between $20,000 and $40,000 per book on those originally, a few higher. Worth the resell. (grin)