Clare Hodder is the co-founder of Rights2, a consultancy that supports publishers with all aspects of rights work.
Getting rights information in order has led me on many treasure hunts over the years. I’ve found myself searching for author contracts in dusty archives and freezing cold barns, trying to decipher faded texts and piecing together jigsaw puzzles of documents.
I spent a good chunk of time at Palgrave Macmillan trying to get on top of the work of John Maynard Keynes, who had retained foreign rights in his works originally and subsequently agreed a myriad of translation deals. Later on we acquired the foreign rights again, but there was a black hole in the documentation, and it emerged that some foreign publishers had been selling his content for decades without paying royalties. It was a good example of how poor record keeping can lead to lost rights revenue.
Of course, not all hunts turn out to have treasure at the end, and rights teams have to judge whether the reward—the likely licensing or permissions income and copyright protection—justifies the effort. If you do want to go on the journey, start with the head contract and work out how many agreements you are looking for: if a book has multiple contributors, you may be looking for multiple agreements, and they might not be stored in the same place. Review interior content, since there may be more agreements relating to illustrations, images or third party material. It is important to be clear on the extent of your IP and royalties positions before you start to exploit any content.
Even if agreements have been digitized, they may be stored in different databases or servers. Pulling them all together requires an organized and analytical mind and very clear procedures for storage. Decide on naming and categorization conventions so people can easily find what they need. Set a central place for information so that it is accessible by those who need it. Make sure that everyone in the business involved in acquisitions knows which rights they need to check ownership of, and how they should be recorded.
Publishers need to be particularly careful around digital rights. I’ve seen people seek to convert thousands of titles into ebook collections, but then have to withdraw many of them because there was too much third party content and not enough clarity about rights ownership. Other publishers get caught out by complications with things like rights ownership of audio recordings, font licenses and the duration of agreements: it’s easy to let renewals slip and find that rights you were confident you held have expired.
If you have a curiosity for publishing, exploring contracts and correspondence can be fascinating, and it’s tempting to delve deeper into the stories of books and author relationships. But even the most committed of bibliophiles will find the research a chore at some point, and there are no short-cuts: you shouldn’t make assumptions about any aspects of rights, and you need to read every last amendment and added clause. Consultants can help if you don’t have the time or expertise to do the work yourself, by providing rights checks or audits and advice on storage. However you go about it, make sure you do the job properly first time: after all the effort, you want to make sure that no-one has to go back to those archives and barns again!
About Clare Hodder
Clare Hodder is a Consultant with leading Rights and Licensing Consultancy, Rights2. She is also founding Director of RightsZone - a cloud based, database and workflow app for rights professionals (www.rightszone.co.uk). Having been in the frontline of rights licensing and management for over 20 years (latterly as Rights Director for Palgrave Macmillan), Clare’s focus is on finding practical, easy to implement solutions that help publishers realise the full potential of their rights. At Rights2 Clare works on projects across all aspects of rights acquisition and licensing, and also offers training and mentoring in these areas. Along with her colleague Ruth Tellis, Clare runs the popular Rights2gether networking and professional development group for rights professionals. You can follow Clare and Ruth on Twitter @Rightsgeeks.