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OUP changing contracts for academic books to “work for hire” terms?

23 January, 2012

If you are reading this blog, this piece might be of interest. I heard about it via Steve Muhlberger. Given the extortionate prices of OUP’s books already — or extortionate compared to my salary, at least — this is especially outrageous. I love some of OUP’s textbooks. I really love the John Arnold Very Short Introduction to History. I’m less willing to use OUP, and now really have no wish to publish with them (not that it’s likely) if this is what they are up to. We get little enough direct remuneration for our scholarship — at the very least it seems fair to allow us to keep the rights to it, or at least to our own use of it.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. 23 January, 2012 5:27 am

    OUP isn’t alone in this. I renegotiated a contract for an essay of mine a while back – I got to keep my rights. I had to ask, but the moment I did so, they gave me a better contract. I’m wondering how much of it is testing the waters. if we don’t question, then the practice grows.

  2. 23 January, 2012 1:00 pm

    Reblogged this on Medieval History Geek and commented:
    This is disturbing. Not that Oxford is going to be asking me to publish anything. What’s troubling is that I’ve seen terms which state that a press retains academic rights while still leaving the author with something. I like OUP books (among other things, for the most part they still have real genuine footnotes at the bottom of pages) and am going to have to figure out what this does for my purchasing habits. The kicker is, I’m not sure how different this is from what they already have – the terms I’ve received already stipulate press rights to publication in print and digital form but at least they leave you something, such as the ability to copy your own work to use in a class or program (this may still constitute fair use or do these terms specifically sign that away too?).

  3. J Liedl permalink
    23 January, 2012 10:42 pm

    I think this is only in the collections ends of their contracts (reference works, especially). It’s very common that the editors and contributors sign over the rights – at least in the collections to which I’ve contributed. I suspect that in some of these cases they are not wanting to deal with dozens of authors to negotiate additional permissions in future as they roll out new electronic editions and the like.

    Commercial presses seem to be less willing to renegotiate than academic presses, I’ve also noted. They’ll rather drop a chapter from a collection than accommodate an author who wants an unusual contract.

    I don’t think you’ll see these terms on too many monograph contracts from academic presses. I will check with my colleague who just published a monograph with OUP last year but I expect his contract for that book was far different than a ‘work for hire’.

  4. 27 January, 2012 9:42 am

    I signed a contract with OUP in 2009 to write a book chapter for a Oxford Handbook, and the contract said nothing about work-for-hire: it was the standard type of book contract where I kept the copyright, but I granted them exclusive rights to the text. Possibly OUP have changed their standard contract since then or possibly there was something unusual about the particular book that Steven Shaviro was writing for – hard to be sure.

  5. 3 February, 2012 10:54 pm

    This is ugly sort of news, especially for someone like me who’s a fan of many musicians who’ve been ripped off by similar clauses for their work, but also because OUP’s profits are partly ploughed back into supporting the humanities at Oxford via a thing called the John Fell Fund. So, via the institutional support I receive, I’m profiting from these practices, which I’d rather not if I had the choice. Of course, so are thousands of students. But there must be a better way than this.

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