I have talked a ton about the value of long term thinking and understanding copyright. So for fun tonight, let me give you a fun example of what is possible. And what Kris and I are planning in the future.
Let me take the book Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Long Night.
Kris and I wrote the book in 1995 and it was published in 1996. Twenty years ago.
I think the contract on it was an all-rights contract combined with a work-for-hire contract. At least all the later media books were, but not sure on this one, I will have to check the contract.
If I remember right, the novel itself is a story about an alien culture in a generation ship stumbling into a space station of another culture and the other culture helps rescue them.
If you understand copyright, Kris and I own the presentation of the story, how it was written, and that was what we sold.
Paramount owns all the trademarks for the characters and the name and the name of the space station.
Actually, at the moment, they own the book completely if it was an all-rights contract.
So got all that?
So in the year 2031 Kris and I plan to have that book reverted to us so we can publish it again.
And yes, we can do that, scrape off the trademarks and publish the book as is. (Scraping off the trademarks would take me about three hours one evening, no big deal with search and replace.)
And yes, we can do this with all our (and my) media books. Every single one of them except the movie novelizations.
And the owners will have no choice but to pull the books out of print if they are still in print, or negotiate with us if they want to keep the book in print as a Star Trek novel.
Yes, all this is possible.
We won’t publish the book as a Star Trek book, of course, since we don’t own those trademarks. But we will own the book and all Star Trek trademarks will be easy to remove, as I said.
First, I suppose a few details to help in the understanding of how we can even think of doing all this.
Under the Copyright Act, a work-made-for-hire is:
“1) A work prepared by an employee within the scope of his/her employment; or
2) A work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to (1) a collective work, (2) as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, (3) as a translation, (4) as a supplementary work, (5) as a compilation, (6) as an instructional text, (7) as a test, (8) as answer material for a test, or (9) as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.”
Now, we did not work at Pocket Books, so we were not employees under any rule. The above in the Copyright Handbook is basically called the Nine Types test of things that can be considered Works Made for Hire by Nonemployees. (I added the nine numbers.)
So to make sure everyone is clear on the first test, the definition of a collective work under the US code is as follows…
A “collective work” is a work, such as a periodical issue, anthology, or encyclopedia, in which a number of contributions, constituting separate and independent works in themselves, are assembled into a collective whole.
We were not a work-for-hire employee of Pocket Books, even though the contract said that. I will check and if the contract only said that (and we didn’t also sell all rights) we can have the book back at any point because they don’t own it. I need to check the contracts. (grin)
So what is the big deal, Dean?? You guys signed an all-rights contract, right?
Yes, I assume we did. But copyright law has a wonderful provision in it giving rights back to authors after 35 years no matter the contract signed as long as it was not work-for-hire.
(So the young, uninformed writers signing traditional contracts these days can get their books back.)
Termination at 35 years clause in the copyright act is the following:
(4) The termination shall be effected by serving an advance notice in writing, signed by the number and proportion of owners of termination interests required under clauses (1) and (2) of this subsection, or by their duly authorized agents, upon the grantee or the grantee’s successor in title.
The notice shall state the effective date of the termination, which shall fall within the five-year period specified by clause (3) of this subsection, and the notice shall be served not less than two or more than ten years before that date. A copy of the notice shall be recorded in the Copyright Office before the effective date of termination, as a condition to its taking effect.
I left out some of the details and other clauses, but in other words, from 25 years to 33 years after publication, you need to give notice that you will exercise these reversion rights to the copyright office (and you might want to tell the copyright holder as well, but not required).
Now, back to The Long Night novel. The end of the year rule in copyright means that we need to give notice to the copyright office that we will be reverting the rights to the novel somewhere between two and ten years before the end of the year 2031. (And then follow through with other details, of course, that don’t matter to this discussion, but are simple.)
So after 2021 we can give notice. Five years from now.
And we will.
Realize that our first Star Trek book came out in 1993, so we will revert that in 2028, and we can give notice in two years if we want.
(And yes, if you are dead, your heirs can still do this if you tell them your work has value.)
Time Goes By
Knowing copyright, how and what is protected, and what isn’t protected, can make you a lot of money and not knowing copyright can cost you a ton of money as well.
And thinking short term can cost you a ton of money in the long run.
Time does go by.
Copyrights have value, even if you don’t believe it now in your early years. Kris and I got paid upwards of $30,000 per book to let Paramount and Pocket Books use our book for thirty-five years. And some of the books are still bringing in some money for them.
But I plan after thirty-five years to take the books back and put them out as novels without all the media trademarks all over them. And let the copyright on those books last for 70 years past my death, earning right along.
Learn copyright, folks. Copyright Handbook is an easy way to get started. A book out of NoLo press that I have nothing at all to do with.
And then start slowly moving your thinking to a balance of short term, medium term, and long term.
And plan on maintenance of the books as years go by, just as you would maintain a house or any property you owned. Revamping the covers, reissuing, and so on to keep them fresh to new readers.
My first novel, Laying the Music to Rest (published in 1989 and rights reverted to me) will now be making me more money as it is serialized in Smith’s Monthly and then in a stand-alone novel in 2017, thirty years after I wrote it.
When I wrote the book, did I think that thirty years after I wrote that book it would still be finding readers? Hell no.
But in this new world, if I wrote it now, I sure would be expecting just that. And I expect Laying the Music to Rest to keep finding readers for another thirty years and beyond.
And that is one of the wonderful differences between the old traditional world and this new world of publishing.
Now we can think about, plan for, and control our long-term future. Even when we signed away all rights on books.