Longtime authors: You can now get your copyright back!

Doing some casual research on copyright before signing a book contract recently, I found out something really cool, which may be useful to authors who have had a book in print for a while.

In 2003 the US Copyright Office made a change in the 1978 copyright law. Authors can get their copyright back from their publishers (a one-time chance) after 35 years. You need to set the wheels in motion from ten to two years earlier (at 25 to 33 years after you signed the contract). The contract must have been signed after 1978. There is only a five-year window at 35 to 40 years of publication, and, again, only one shot at doing it.

But for some longtime authors who may have signed away rights when they were starting out, or were desperate to publish, it is great – you can get your copyright back, or renegotiate your contract for better terms.

Below are helpful links. I am not a lawyer, so for more information please read the articles, or ask your lawyer, agent, or even your publisher.

At any rate, this is good news for published authors, artists, musicians, and other creative folks who may regret doing a bad deal early on. Rather charmingly, the Supreme Court noted that “authors are congenitally irresponsible, [and] that frequently they are so sorely pressed for funds that they are willing to sell their work for a mere pittance.”

Excellent piece:  http://dearauthor.com/features/reclaiming-your-copyright-after-thirty-five-years/

US Copyright Office: http://www.copyright.gov/docs/203.html

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries article: https://libraries.mit.edu/news/reclaiming-copyright-2/14404/

NY Times article (if I read the other three links correctly, the NY Times writer is wrong when he says it was in the 1978 law; it was added in 2003): http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/11/arts/music/a-copyright-victory-35-years-later.html?_r=0

  1. hellerj said:

    Dear Roxie Monro,

    Thank you for posting this! You are a wonderful source of information for us writers! Best wishes for 2016!

    Janet Ruth Heller
    Author of the award-winning book for children about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006), and the middle-grade book for kids The Passover Surprise (Fictive Press, 2015).
    My website is http://www.janetruthheller.com

  2. Thanks, Janet! I just feel that sharing info, and concerns, helps all of us.

  3. This is a fascinating article Roxie. Thanks for sharing. Mark Carthew (PhD), Australia.

    • Yes! It has kind of floated under the radar – few people know about it (and, of course, it’s not in the interest of publishers to disseminate the info).

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