Q&A: Writing professors’ rights: Can the university claim the rights to your publication?

Q: Writing professors’ rights: Can the university claim the rights to your publication/royalties based on your employment at the time of writing the manuscript?”

A: Brenda Ulrich, Partner, Archstone Law Group PC:

“It’s an interesting issue. Under standard employment law the employer owns anything created by the employee in the scope of their employment. And certainly writing and publishing scholarly work is considered to be in the scope of a professor’s job duties. However, within academia there is what is often called the “academic tradition,” namely, that professors and academics own their own scholarship. Most universities will defer to the academic tradition and don’t try to claim ownership of the books and articles their faculty members write – and many state this policy outright in their faculty handbook or other policies. As a practical matter, it also just makes sense: if a faculty member departs for another university, everyone assumes their scholarship and publications will go with them since they will be continuing to build on that work at the new institution.

The place where I’ve seen the issue get murky or divisive is around things like course or teaching materials – both online and in class – which arguably have aspects of both scholarship and straight teaching obligations built into them. Course materials also might receive a lot more support and investment from the university itself – especially for online courses –  such that the university feels it has more of a vested interested and right to use or license them later. In these circumstances I strongly recommend putting some sort of written agreement in place between the university and the instructor so everyone understands ownership and use rights going in.”

Pearson’s ‘digital first’ announcement: A legal perspective

Interpreting, Adapting, and Amending Textbook Publishing Contracts in a Changing Publishing World

In announcing its new strategic commitment to digital courseware and its dramatic break from the traditional model of successive print editions of textbooks, Pearson addressed a letter “to our author community.” In the letter, Pearson emphasized its ties to “our authors and partners” and declared that “together we can provide updates, enhancements, and digital functionality to respond more quickly to changing customer expectations, demands, curricular shifts and developments in your field.”

One thing that Pearson did not address in its letter to its authors is how it proposed to interpret or change existing publishing contracts in order to be able to go forward in a “digital first” world. It’s what the contracts say that counts, and many of these contracts are very difficult to apply in the changing publishing world.   [Read more…]

Can my publisher really do that? Common author questions and answers from industry pros

textbooksAt TAA’s 2019 Textbook & Academic Authoring Conference, industry insider Sean Wakely and royalty auditor Juli Saitz addressed some common questions authors have about what prerogatives publishers have in respect to publication decisions, calculating royalty payments, marketing, and rights, with hypothetical examples from their point of view.

Here are the questions and answers from that session, divided into five parts: [Read more…]

How might the McGraw-Hill and Cengage merger affect authors?

Are you wondering what the recently announced merger between textbook giants McGraw-Hill and Cengage could mean for authors? Join publishing attorney Steve Gillen and textbook author and Monroe College professor Karen Morris for their session at TAA’s 32nd Annual Conference entitled: “Mergers and Acquisitions Among Publishers: Authors Need a Life Jacket.”

Gillen and Morris will discuss the recent history of consolidation in educational publishing. How does it impact an author’s career? What can you do to prepare for the possibility? What should you do if it happens to you? What options exist if new relationships don’t go well? Get answers to these and related questions, and ideas on how to survive well. [Read more…]

Reflections on negotiating a contract 4: Royalties

NegotiationMy previous posts have been concerned with the large number of different issues in my contract as well as the general question of what ability I had to negotiate/renegotiate with my publisher who has a ton of leverage compared to me, a relative unknown. This post follows that basic theme, but looks specifically at the question of royalties.

One of the first things I’ll mention is the variety of different royalty clauses. To start, there were the basic book formats: hardback, paperback, and e-book. Following these were another dozen or so clauses, split into “rights and royalties” and “subsidiary rights and royalties,” which included things like international rights, audio and video rights, book club uses, use of excerpts and more.  [Read more…]

Reflections on negotiating a contract 3: Emotionally loaded details

NegotiationThis is more of my neophyte reflections on negotiating a contract. My previous post looked at the many different issues covered by a contract and the basic difficulty of handling so many issues. This post on focuses on some of the more emotionally charged clauses.

For me, part of the stress of contracts is that they force you to think about extreme cases because it’s easy to get emotionally charged while thinking about extreme issues. For example, there are clauses related to future editions and to the publisher’s rights for future editions. Future editions are an “extreme case” because they only become an issue if the book does extremely well. [Read more…]

Reflections on negotiating a contract 2: Myriad details

NegotiationIn this, the second of my posts on the contract and negotiation process, I consider the wide variety of issues that came up as I read my contract. Not being a lawyer, contracts always seem long and intimidating to me.

As I said in my previous post, my contract was some 13 pages long, and like most legal documents, very detailed. It was not something I would like to handle from a place of ignorance, but it was also not something that I thought required hiring a lawyer to help me. [Read more…]

Reflections on negotiating a contract 1: Leverage and the power to negotiate

NegotiationWhen I wrote my last series of posts, I was waiting to hear whether a publisher would offer me a contract for my book for graduate students. The publisher—Routledge—did make an offer, marking the pleasant culmination of the 10+ month proposal process, and I could begin to look forward to publication, most likely in 2020 of my book titled Literature Review and Research Design: A Guide to Effective Research Practice. Getting the offer was a great milestone, but it didn’t put an end to the larger process of getting published. The next phase began with the question of whether to accept the offered contract and whether and how to negotiate for changes. As with my previous series of posts, I offer the reflections of a relative novice, not the advice of an expert. [Read more…]

College textbook publishing: Royalties, risk, and reward

High books stack with open book isolated on white background. Many colorful book covers.College textbook authors are motivated to write for many reasons. Some write with the goal of providing the optimum textbook for their students. Others are excited to share their approach to teaching a subject, or they simply enjoy the experience of translating research into practice. And, in some cases, the primary motive is to generate income.

Regardless of their motives, every textbook author must grapple with the same question: How can I achieve the best return on the time I spend writing a textbook, and how much risk should I accept in exchange for my sweat equity? To this end, there are several considerations authors should keep in mind regarding royalties as they negotiate a publishing agreement. [Read more…]

Cengage denies trampling authors’ rights, claims Cengage Unlimited will increase author royalties

TextbooksIn its response to a class action lawsuit filed against them in May by David Knox and Caroline Schacht, Cengage denies that its business model “tramples on” or is in any way inconsistent with its authors’ rights and said it believes that the new Cengage Unlimited model will “increase sales and revenues (and, accordingly, royalties to authors).”

Cengage authors Knox and Schacht filed their class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on May 14 against Cengage claiming the company’s emphasis on digital distribution, including its new Cengage Unlimited model and expanded digital courseware offerings, have violated their publishing agreements. The suit also claims that the company is refusing to provide information that would allow them to audit their royalty payments. [Read more…]