Publishing agreements and how to republish articles and books on the Internet.
Periodical publishers, including the ABA, typically ask authors to assign “the exclusive right of first publication” to the publisher as well as various other nonexclusive rights (including rights to reproduce, distribute, and syndicate the work). This allows an author to reprint a work after it has been published by the publisher. As such, I routinely publish articles on my website that have been written for other publications, but I always wait until I receive a copy of the publication in the mail, and I give attribution to the publisher. (I don’t have a category for it, but you can find, for example, all of my “nothing.but.net” columns on this site.) For example, the heading of my most recent “nothing.but.net” column includes this statement: “First published 3/1/2004; Law Practice Management magazine, ‘nothing.but.net’ column; American Bar Association.” I include the publication, the publisher, and the date of publication.
Book publishers, however, are generally not as generous. When authors write a book, there are frequently few copyright rights left for the author. I have written several books and like the approach a friend took with several of his books. He negotiated a clause in his contract that provided that after the publisher had stopped publishing the book, the copyright rights reverted back to the author. If more authors did this, it would allow them to reprint books on the Internet that are no longer selling in print.
My first book, “The Legal List,” was published under a copyright scheme I called print-and-pay copyright, which allowed electronic versions to be freely copied but which required payment if the book was printed. Perhaps I’ll try to reacquire all of the copyright rights for my now out-of-print books.
The ABA did recently redesign its website and much of the content that had been available for free to the general public is now available only to ABA members. On one hand, you could argue that people who come to the ABA website to view free content are more likely to join the ABA and that removing “old” content makes it more difficult to attract new members. On the other hand, you could argue that providing the full text of articles to members only provides an incentive for nonmembers to join the ABA (and I have it on good authority that this is the position that the ABA is taking). The ABA’s new policy, however, had the effect of breaking all of the links on this site to my “old” articles. As a result, I’m now using a two-step process to point users to these articles. On my home page, I include the cover of the most recent “Law Practice” magazine and a link to the reprint of the article on my site, which then includes a link to the ABA site. This is, at best, a complicated solution, but I think it works better than having users get a 404 file-not-found error (which is what was happening).
I hope that the ABA’s strategy pays off, and for those of you who have not yet joined the ABA (especially law students), I would strongly encourage you to do so, because I believe that the ABA is a wonderful organization. Join and participate, you will get out of it what you put into it (and then some).