Copyright on Proposals

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Copyright on Proposals

Redigeret: sep 1, 2022, 12:05 pm

Hi all,

As you formulate your proposals this September, the Advisory Board wanted to flag as especially important the issue of copyright. There was some discussion, initially, of requiring proposals to contain only out-of-copyright content. However, it can be tricky to discern whether something is public domain. Further, copyright permission is often easy to obtain if you know where to look and who to ask. A few rules of thumb:

1. Anything published before 1927 is in the public domain.

2. Translations and original works are separate matters concerning copyright.

3. Permission for copyrights held by a major publishing house (Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Curtis Brown, etc.) tend to be easier to obtain.

4. Permission for copyrights held by an estate or private agent tend to be harder to obtain.

Don't let something being under copyright scare you off an idea, but it's worth checking who holds the copyright to better discern whether your proposal will ultimately be feasible. The Advisory Board will do this, also, if your proposal makes it to round two of voting. However, if you want to avoid a "This isn't feasible!" warning attached to your idea, it's worth doing a little research in advance.

This thread is open to any members who want to run their idea by me and others to get a quick opinion on whether the copyright looks obtainable.



sep 1, 2022, 12:11 am

A good resource to start: The Copyright Clearance Center

Redigeret: sep 1, 2022, 11:21 am

Hi Griffin,

I'm a little confused about why you're using 1923 for the cut-off date, as that (finally!) started shifting in 2019. That's why The Great Gatsby, published in 1925, got a flurry of new editions when it became public domain in 2021. The cut-off date for published written works should now be anything published 1926 or earlier. (Sound recordings have some weird and different rules but unless someone proposes a book/vinyl combined edition I think we can avoid worrying about that.)

Cornell has a nice chart at

sep 1, 2022, 12:04 pm

>3 ambyrglow: Yes, this is a great point! Typo — I'm so used to writing out "1923" that I just automatically put it. However, there are quite a few works between 1923 and 1926 which have been granted extensions or are still under copyright based on the life/death of the author — that is, special cases. Because the shift is so recent, much is still being litigated. Overall, you're correct: The vast majority of works published before 1927 will be public domain.

sep 1, 2022, 12:15 pm

My proposal has a 25-year safety margin, ha ha. But I was still confused by what I found online with a quick check.

sep 1, 2022, 12:23 pm

>5 jveezer: Finding whether something is still under copyright (and who holds the copyright) can be a giant hassle. It's oddly difficult to find up-to-date information. I once spent months tracking down the representative of Willa Cather's estate — a fella working out of a one-man office in a strip mall in Southern California.

Some situations remind me a bit of Charles Kinbote's having acquired the copyright to John Shade's "Pale Fire"...

sep 1, 2022, 12:46 pm

I checked using your link and the copyright holder for my proposal is readily accessed therefrom. I suspect he may be amenable to a fine press edition of his work, but of course, I am only guessing.

sep 1, 2022, 1:44 pm

I have a couple questions for the management/advisory board and anyone else who wants to chime in.

If we're considering proposing a work that is still under copyright, is it appropriate for us to reach out to the estate, private agent, or publishing house to start the conversation about our intent?

I don't know if that is overstepping any bounds and I figured I'd just ask for clarity on the subject. If you deem that it can be appropriate, and assuming it wouldn't be considered futile, then additionally, do we want to have a stock template for Consensus Press members to use when creating such an address?

These are a lot of ifs, but if this type of research is done, my belief is that it would need to be clear that the scope stops at having "intent of a proposal" and that no members should ever make any promises to the rights holder on behalf of the membership.

...essentially, I'm wondering if it's appropriate to have a conversation, something to the extent of: "I'm interested in proposing book X to a press for publishing. I understand that it's under copyright and you're in charge of handling the rights. If the press expressed interest in creating this book, do you think it would be feasible to obtain rights to do so?"

sep 1, 2022, 1:55 pm

>8 Tuna_Melon: This is a fantastic question. Thank you for asking it.

Short answer: Leave permissions outreach to us.

Long answer: While there's absolutely nothing wrong with doing due diligence to determine whether your proposal is feasible (from a copyright standpoint) before making it, we recommend leaving actual outreach to copyright holders to us. We don't want to confuse copyright holders, or run the risk of complicating relationships with mixed messaging.

Redigeret: sep 1, 2022, 2:20 pm

>8 Tuna_Melon: >9 consensuspress: To elaborate a little bit:

(1) Copyright holders may respond to inquiries with an automated permissions form; the inquiring member will then receive follow-up about the status and payment on their permissions request.

(2) There are certain industry terms which are necessarily for effective communication when obtaining copyright permission. Members are unlikely to know these, and therefore miscommunication is possible. For example, if a member asks a copyright holder, "Is it feasible to obtain rights to this work?" the answer might well be, "No." However, if the member had asked, "Is it possible to obtain one-time non-exclusive non-transferrable permission?" the answer would likely be, "Yes!"

(3) It's possible that members will reach out to the wrong copyright holder who in turn will not do their own due diligence about whether they have the ability to grant copyright. This is really common.

(4) Many copyright holders seem to immediately dismiss or ignore inquiries made from non-professional email accounts. (e.g. an @ gmail may very well be ignored just because)

sep 1, 2022, 2:35 pm

>4 grifgon: Thanks, Griffin! May I suggest making this edit on as well?

(The book I'm proposing has a 1916 copyright date, so I don't know why I'm so fussed about this, heh.)

sep 1, 2022, 3:51 pm

>11 ambyrglow: It's a super important correction, given the amount of great literature produced in the 20's!

I'll shoot Reed (website guy) an email and ask him to update. Thanks again!

sep 1, 2022, 9:11 pm

Do we have a reason to think that copyright of works by C. S. Lewis would be obtainable?

sep 1, 2022, 11:00 pm

>13 realto: Maybe, but I don't think this would be a quick or easy process. I tried once before when I worked at Thornwillow and got nowhere. If the goal is to make a feasible proposal, I'd look elsewhere. (Though I've always thought Lewis' work would make for great private press editions, especially "The Abolition of Man".)

sep 2, 2022, 12:14 pm

>14 grifgon: Ok, thank you I'll look elsewhere then.

sep 2, 2022, 1:59 pm

In looking into copyright, it seems that translations can also be considered as copyrighted works.

For example:
(A): If book X was first published (non-English) before 1927, and
(B) if book X was translated into English sometime since 1927, then
(C) there still may still be issues obtaining copyright.

It seems that the original work would be in public domain and could be used in its original language without needing to procure rights. Similarly, a new translation of the original work into English could be made without copyright issues. However, if we wanted to use the existing post-1926 translation, rights would need to be negotiated.

Is my understanding correct or am I way off in some respects?

Redigeret: sep 2, 2022, 3:48 pm

>16 Tuna_Melon: Yes, translations can be given a copyright and are. If a new translation was used for a fine press edition, the translator would most likely copyright his work, unless he/she felt like putting it in the Public Domain or assigning it a Creative Commons license that was less restrictive, perhaps an Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND) license which would allow others to reuse the work for any purpose, including commercially; however, it could not be shared with others in adapted form, and the creator would have to be credited.

I did this with a work on butterflies I wrote and am continually updating. I gave it a CC BY-NC-ND license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivatives), the most restrictive of the CC licenses. It allows people to share (reprint) it for non-commercial purposes without change, but my authorship must be credited. It is a work of original research so I wanted others to have free access to it, but not to profit from my work.

However, I rather doubt a CC license would be the preferred route for a new translation of an existing work. If it were me doing the translation, I would use the standard copyright (all rights reserved) and grant permission as I desired. Of course, if it were contracted as a work-for-hire, that is another kettle of fish entirely, as the copyright would be owned, not by the translator, but by the entity that hired/contracted for the translation.

But, overall, obtaining permissions, while sometimes problematical, shouldn't be seen as a deterrence to a proposal.

sep 3, 2022, 10:28 am

>16 Tuna_Melon: That's 100% correct!

sep 3, 2022, 10:32 am

>17 Glacierman:

overall, obtaining permissions, while sometimes problematical, shouldn't be seen as a deterrence to a proposal.

Yes, exactly. In many cases copyright permission are perfectly feasible to obtain.

sep 3, 2022, 8:43 pm

Thanks so much for setting up this discussion board; I'm looking forward to participating this experiment!

What I want to propose is a short modern work of fiction that I loved in a simple trade paperback and hasn’t been done before in a special edition. Any advice on the feasibility of getting rights to any of these would be appreciated:

Philip Roth - Nemesis (2010 novel)
Cormac McCarthy - The Stonemason (1994 play)
Michael Ondaatje - Running in the Family (1982 fictionalized memoir)

Just trying to decide if I should pursue this line of thinking or try settle on something without copyright issues.

sep 3, 2022, 11:30 pm

>20 jsavoy: All three of these writers have had their work printed by at least one private or fine press, so at a minimum it is possible for a fine press project to acquire copyright permissions. My gut says that Ondaatje would be relatively straightforward, while Roth and McCarthy would be a crapshoot.

By the way, Jason Dewinetz (proprietor of Greenboathouse Press, and on our Advisory Board) has a great essay about the making of his Ondaatje edition, "Tin Roof".

sep 4, 2022, 4:54 am

Am I right to assume that everything from the Tolkien estate is close to impossible to obtain rights for, even if its just a short piece like Ainulindalë?

What about Ted Hughes and his Tales from Ovid?

Redigeret: sep 4, 2022, 11:30 am

>22 SebRinelli: Close to, yeah, probably. I managed to acquire permission to reprint the introduction to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, actually, but the works themselves are controlled entirely by a private estate, which are always tough to deal with. At worst, unresponsive, at best, snail-like.

Ted Hughes' permissions are managed by Faber & Faber, who are very straightforward and quick to work with.

sep 4, 2022, 1:46 pm

>23 grifgon:, >22 SebRinelli: Yes, the Tolkien Estate is notoriously protective of his works. And money talks....

sep 4, 2022, 11:22 pm

>21 grifgon: Thanks for the opinions on copyright and the reference to the Greenboathouse Tin Roof essay. Looks like a wonderful production I'll need to keep an eye open for!

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