pre-meeting workshop—clearing & tracking third-party permissions; the IP equity-up scenario

Stephanie Vyce of Harvard University Press is a star—which should be news to none by now—and the program she put together for this year’s pre-meeting workshop was equally brilliant. The agenda describes what we were in for. I’m sure notes to the Wiki will follow to suggest some of what we covered. All in all, worth not only the price of admission but may well have been worth the fee, lodging, and travel besides—for the workshop alone!

The back-and-forth in real time with so many colleagues on a given subject, with a spate of key professionals in the room to guide, is what made the day so valuable: Text and Photo rights holders; publishers; legal counsel; a database engineer; acquisitions staff; and rights & permissions folk, all gathered in roundtable to hash it out. Bringing each other up to speed—except for Linda Steinman; she mostly brought us up to speed—and looking out for each other and each other’s presses, as we prepare for the road ahead for third-party rights in scholarly communication.

Kristina Stonehill of Wayne State University Press discussed internal structure and staffing solutions; WSUP has a rights-centric staffer communicating with authors from day 1 to help them to clear “in-bound” permissions. Diane Grosse of Duke University Press handled things on the flip side, addressing our “out-bound” grants of permissions, noting that what we grant has to match what we ask for. Christopher Hudson and Kara Kirk of the MoMA caught us up on trends in art permissions, stressing that term limits are likely here to stay for the foreseeable future.

We discussed the IT ramifications of all trends, and Systems Manager Chris Cosner of Stanford University Press not only helped us handle these questions but also discussed Stanford’s new press-wide database solution and walked the group through the development steps for building our own clearing and tracking systems, whether as standalone spreadsheets or integrated with larger dbs.

Diane Grosse had perhaps my favorite quotable takeaway: “These issues are frustrating, but that frustration is wed to our integrity.”

Linda Steinman told us heroic and historic tales of fair use and dispensed crucial advice. She also reminded us that copyright is not a fault system. Publishers will be sued, if they infringe, regardless of authors’ warranties. We explored some of the ramifications of this in the new environment and were cautioned strongly against “jumping into e-formats” (from print editions and grants) without clearing all e-rights. More and more companies and tools for tracking down even incidental infringement are coming online every day; they are getting more sophisticated and rights holders tend to “get organized over time.”

We had “due” sense of urgency throughout: We were and are all aware that all of our systems must not only facilitate our acquisitions efforts but also help us get ahead of the information/technology curve. Nobody, but nobody wants to dig through their entire back list and/or retool their press-wide database—seasonally.

Just why our directors want us to slay this beast finally gelled, for me, while chatting with Stephanie Vyce and with Gita Manaktala of MIT Press over lunch: We realized that for university presses to access the full dissemination and revenue potential in our increasingly hybridized publishing programs, we will have to move more thoroughly and more quickly (than ever before) in our clearing and tracking of third-party rights. The more efficiently we work together as a press, the more options our authors will have, the more satisfied they will be, and the more revenue we will have for the life of each work, and therefore those presses that move most collaboratively and quickly through the next few seasons will cover the most ground, generate the most options with the least risk, and never look back.

When the day was done, we had come up with good plans for moving forward and several new tools for streamlining our communication with and services to our authors, toward a more efficient and robust access of IP equity for our presses.

Thank you, Stephanie, for putting together such a wonderful workshop! And thank you to all the speakers and attendees who made it so great!