Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Mayans Were Right...but wrong...but Right...Again!

Well, maybe the end of the world isn't happening at the end of 2012...but then again, Twinkies were threatened, and that's (I hear) enough of a shock to make it seem worth the proclamations of doom. They're not my favorite snack, by fact I find that delightful, over-dyed, greasy cake filled with questionable, poofy, marshmallow cream to be a bit of a turn off.

But did you know that if you deep fry it, it actually tastes...good? I was a bet. That got lost.

Now, however, there is something else that makes the oncoming year 2013 seem ominous. Apparently copyright law has a change that is 35 years in the making and is about to collect.

In an article by Jeff John Roberts, the concerns and possibilities of the new Copyright Act will allow authors to reclaim their work after 35 years. All those backlisted novels by authors famous by today's standards (Roberts listed a few including Stephen King, Judy Blume, and John LeCarre...definitely some names who could cash in now what they may not have been able to back then) could prove quite an unforseen monetary hazard for publishers already struggling. Here's how the law works:

"The law in question is Section 203 of the 1978 Copyright Act which allows authors to cut away any contract after 35 years. Congress put it in place to protect young artists who signed away future best sellers for a pittance . . . The 1978 law also means a threat to the back list of titles that are a cash cow for many publishers. The threat is amplified as a result of new digital distribution options for authors that were never conceived when the law was passed — these new options mean authors have more leverage to walk away from their publishers altogether."

Ahh here we are...the threat of eBooks and ePublishing yet again. As you can see, the friendly balance between the two has not yet arrived. Maybe it never will. They are, after all, in direct competition with each other, and until all the major publishing houses own all the major ePublishing houses (or vice versa) there will not be peace between the Montagues and the Capulets.

You can see how this might be a problem. If a present-day author who is stable both financially and in terms of popularity, they will have great leverage over their publisher should they want to take their old books elsewhere. Which means either the publishing houses will have to pay up, literally, or risk losing their money makers. Having Stephen King on your list is no joke, folks. So all the publishers are in a quiet tizzy, trying not to bring attention to this change approaching in the new year and hoping that it all goes over quietly.

Then again, there may be nothing to really worry about. It seems that most agents and authors don't really know about the law, and even if they do, their chance to do something about it is not very wide. Roberts goes on to say that

"authors have a five-year window to exercise the right but must also provide advance notice at least two years but no more than 10 years beforehand. For 1978 authors — who are eligible to reclaim in 2013 — the window is already closing."

They'll only have three years to make this work, and believe me, that's a short time even as it is simultaneously a long time in the publishing world. All the gears have to get going at the same time and in the same way before much can get done. So if the authors are going to do this, they need to go ahead and be prepared to do it when the first of the year hits us. And if none of them really know about it, how are they to do that?

Of course, at the same time, it may not be worth the legal trouble. Court cases are incredibly expensive, should the publishers take it that far, and some producers have already done so in the case of music copyright reclamation. Roberts discusses that further in his article, but I will refrain from getting into that here.

In my opinion, contrary to all concerns, this could prove to be a windfall in the publishers' benefit.

This could be the big chance to renew these old titles. Who among us wouldn't eat up anything by our favorite author? And if some of their first novels became 'rereleased' from the printing block? We'd eat it alive. Buy everything, buy anything! I do this already with J.R.R. Tolkien. I see a book by him that I've never read before (rare at this point, but it does happen to my great delight) or at least an edition that I've never seen before, and snatch. Mine. I just recently got my hands on an original 1960s edition of The Tolkien Reader that I'd never seen before. Immediately became part of my collection without question.

And the swarm of, for example already mentioned, Stephen King fans-- I'm sure they already have his backlisted books, even if they are out of print (there are ways, my friends) but who wouldn't want a brand spanking new crisp and beautiful edition to put next to their old one? I do this...I'm still looking for the 1960s Lord of the Rings, personally...I've mentioned this before, but if you're new to my blog, I love books printed in the 60s. They smell the best.

As usual, I take a more laid-back opinion on the whole matter. I don't think it's as much of a crisis as the publishers fear it could be, but then again, I could be wrong. I certainly hope I'm not! Any more turmoil in the industry and no new books will ever be published. Everyone will just throw up their hands in defeat. This is, of course, a hyperbolic statement. But I bet you knew that. You're a clever bunch.

Stay away from those Twinkies...

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