Kirsch’s Publishing Law Update

November 1999
by Jonathan Kirsch

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Jonathan KirschJonathan Kirsch, a publishing attorney based in Los Angeles, is general counsel of the Independent Book Publishers Association and a recipient of its Benjamin Franklin Award for excellence in publishing.

Publishers often deal with requested changes in language when negotiating contracts with authors. The following are two related questions recently posed by publisher members of IBPA.

Question: One of our authors has told me that she wants to change the “grant of rights” clause in our standard publishing contract to a “license of rights.” What does this mean for the publisher?

Answer: A “grant of rights” conveys OWNERSHIP of some or all rights under copyright from the grantor (in this case, the author) to the grantee (in this case, the publisher). For example, a grant of print publication rights in an author’s work under a standard publishing agreement means that the publisher is now the owner of the specified rights. A grant of rights might be for one specific right only (i.e., “English-language book rights”) or for all rights in a work of authorship. Typically, the grant of rights is for “the full term of copyright” or even “in perpetuity,” although US copyright law permits the author to terminate the transfer of rights under certain narrow conditions between 35 and 40 years later.

A “license of rights,” by contrast, conveys no ownership interest in the work of authorship at all. Instead, a license conveys only the right to USE the work in question in some specified manner, and ownership is retained by the author. Licenses are typically limited to a specified term of years, a specified territory, a specified medium, and so on. Thus, for example, an author might…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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