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The mysterious art of book rights

Tom-pic1Tom Chalmers is Managing Director at IPR License.

Are all authors fully aware of all the rights they hold to their work? Are too many missing out on potential revenue streams by ignoring overseas markets? How many understand their ownership of worldwide book rights?

The sometimes apparently mysterious art of book rights can often be misunderstood or simply ignored. Writers write and then the book sells in vast quantities all over the world. That’s how it works, doesn’t it?

Sadly not. And in response the earlier questions: No. Yes. Not nearly enough. In the inaugural IPR License Author Index we quizzed published and aspiring authors on their knowledge of the rights they hold to their work and it generated some concerning results. One of the major ones being that nearly half of authors (47%) admitted that they did not know or were unsure if they owned the world rights to their book. In addition, only 13% of respondents said they had licensed their work to an overseas publisher, representing another potentially huge opportunity lost.

And a staggering 28% of authors believed that they have a legitimate right to sell their human rights whilst over a third (38%) believed that a right of passage (sic) was also a right that they had the power to sell.

In other results, 59% thought that digital copyright infringement was becoming more of a problem with only 6% citing that it was becoming less of a problem and 35% saying that they were unsure. 40% of authors reported not knowing or being unsure if they should receive royalties when someone photocopies their work.

This data all highlights that more needs to be done to educate the writing community on book rights in general and let’s underline just how vital it is that authors are fully aware of their rights, especially those self-published and independent authors. It was with this in mind that we recently launched our ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign. Feedback so far has been very positive and we hope that this momentum will continue to grow in the coming months.

We realise that the international rights arena can appear to be a complex one. But the fact is that despite sales of international and subsidiary rights making up a large proportion of a book’s income for publishing houses, most authors continue to ignore the prospect of being published outside their own country or language.

It’s clear that we still have some way to go in helping authors through the rights maze but, with such a potentially lucrative market out there, if authors really want to successfully monetise all their hard work and endeavors it is one that they really need to embrace, and quickly.


Laura Summers

Tom Chalmers

Co-founder of @bookmachine - the network for forward-thinking #publishing folks; and BookMachine Works - the fresh new creative agency for publishers

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