Subsidiary Rights: Acquisition & Licensing

August 1998
by Lloyd L. Rich

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Lloyd RichLloyd Rich is an attorney practicing publishing and intellectual property law. He can be reached at 303-388-0291 or rich@sni.net. Jennifer L. Fountain, a third-year student at the University of Denver School of Law, provided the research for this article.


The grant of rights clause in a publishing contract is one of the most important clauses because it enumerates the specific rights granted to the publisher by the author. Negotiation of this clause has become even more important in today’s world where increasingly more uses are being developed for literary content. The scope of the clause may vary widely, it could be all inclusive-granting all the exclusive rights and interests in the author’s work, or the grant could be very narrow-only including a single specific use of the author’s work, or it could be somewhere between these extremes.

The critical point is that the publisher only has the right to exploit those rights that are specifically granted to the publisher and any exploitation of rights exceeding the author’s grant could be deemed a copyright infringement of the author’s work. Copyright ownership of a literary work consists of a bundle of rights which an author, at least theoretically, may assign to the publisher in any manner he or she chooses. Thus an author may assign all or only a part of his/her rights to one or more publishers while retaining particular rights for himself/herself. The Copyright Act confers five separate exclusive rights to copyright owners of a literary work. Subject to certain limitations, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to: (1) reproduce the copyrighted work, (2) prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work, (3) distribute copies of the copyrighted work t…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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