I’m not sure if this has been written about, yet, but on Monday I read an interesting article from Publisher’s Weekly about an upcoming deadline in a subject that strict fear into most new writers, if not some established ones as well.
This article talked about a little discussed clause in the 1998 “Sonny Bono” act. You know, the one that let Disney hold onto Mickey Mouse for a few more decades. To be honest, I took a copyright class in college and I forgot about it too. The clause allows authors do everything from renegotiate royalities to complete reclaimation of rights of the work no matter the current contract 35 years after publication. Now these are for all works published from 1978 and on. So next year will be the first year in which rights can start to be completely reverted back to authors.
Here is where I think J.K. Rowling is about to gain favor with many of the authors that panned her over the years.
If Pottermore, her online store and virtual World of Harry Potter, becomes a successful model for authors selling their books themselves (and not just short term where all current fans go and rack up millions of downloads in hours, but there are enough constant sales to keep it functioning and make a profit), we could see the possibility of many well-known authors exercising this Termination Clause and setting up their own shop.
A quick glimpse of genre fiction around 1978 shows us this:
Stephen King only had three novels, plus Rage under the Richard Bachmann pseudonym, out before that. It was the year that The Stand and Night Shift were published. Piers Anthony released the second Xanth novel. Terry Brooks just published The Sword of Shannara last year. Peter Straub will publish his third book next year as V.C. Andrews and Douglas Adams are going to make their publishing debut. That’s all I know of off hand, but I also know that it is also not long after that the 80′s horror boom hit publishers.
Can you imagine if these authors, or their estates, took back the rights and re-published themselves and continued that trend as each subsequent book came up for the Termination Clause? And then all the authors that came after them and their books?