Behind much of the colourful, compelling content we consume on a daily basis, there’s a story involving rights, permissions and conversations about copyright. More essential than it is exciting, perhaps, the rights and permissions machine toils away behind the publishing scenes to gain access to the third-party photos, illustrations and text extracts that bring so much of our book content to life. This week, we’re taking a closer look at this much-overlooked part of the publishing process.
It may not fire your imagination in the way that other conversations about content do, but clearing permissions for the reuse of third-party materials is – and has always been – a vital part of the publishing process. The copyright for much of the engaging material we often take for granted in books – as well as in eBooks and on websites, of course – is owned by a third-party who chooses whether or not they will grant the rights to their intellectual property.
It’s only fair, then, that formal requests for reuse are submitted to these rights-holders, who – if all goes according to plan – will probably grant permission. It’s worth noting that if a publisher goes ahead and includes the chosen material in their publication without clearance, then they are likely to be infringing copyright and committing a sueable offence.
An essential, ethical process
So essential is the permissions-clearance process in conducting business ethically that publishers nearly always employ a member of staff or an entire team – depending on the size of the organisation – to ensure that full authorisation is obtained and the whole process runs smoothly. Budgets are set to cover the fees for the cleared materials, and online project-management tools, such as SmartSheet, are frequently used to track clearance progress and add source details, reference numbers and credits.
Some large organisations have ongoing relationships with the biggest and best picture libraries – including Alamy, Shutterstock and Getty 360 – in order to drive down reuse costs and automatically cover certain rights, including print and electronic, world all languages, unlimited print run and ten-year term. These agreements also often feature royalty-free deals at special rates, so that publishers can use content multiple times at no extra cost.
The whole process can work the other way, too, with publishers being asked to grant permission for their content to be reused by others. But in whatever direction the deal goes, efficiency and economy are key.
As Kevin Stewart, publishing-contracts consultant and tutor at The Publishing Training Centre says: “The Permissions Administrator is tasked with ensuring that the best mix for your company is achieved to make the work of dealing with permissions as smooth and profitable (or, at least, cost-effective) as possible.”
Permissions for project success
Given the repercussions of a failure to adhere to copyright law, many publishers actively worry about the clearance process. Not only can whole projects derail if the relevant permissions aren’t granted in time or prove too expensive, but the use of content without permission can result in legal action being taken against the perpetrating publisher.
In short, the way that permissions are cleared has the potential to make or break a project, or even an entire brand. And that’s why the process is so stringent, with multiple sign-off stages, meticulous tracking, regular catch-ups and top-notch communication.
Here at Out of House Publishing, we have a specialist permissions team to do the leg-work when it comes to requesting access to third-party content for your titles. If you don’t have the time or energy for the nitty-gritty of copyright issues, or just need a little support with clearance, please do get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you!
Thanks to Kate Ter Haar for the image.