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Back in the late 90's I wrote a picture book which eventually was published in 2002 by a big name publishing house. The book was critically acclaimed, won an award, and went through a couple of printings, before finally going out of print around 2006.

Since then, I've tried a couple of times to get my rights back, with no luck. The deal is that the book is technically still available --print on demand. However, they only sell about 1 copy a year. I'd be glad for them to keep the rights if they would actually put the book back into print, but if it's just going to be POD, I'd like to try my luck elsewhere.

Any advice? I don't want to burn any bridges.

A little background: If your book goes out of print, you have the right to get your publishing rights back so you can place them with a publisher that will publish your book. Several years ago, however, the major publishers all started doing POD as a way of retaining rights to books that would otherwise revert to the authors.

My contract was signed prior to this becoming a standard practice --later contracts have this spelled out, but mine is before that became a thing.

I appreciate the advice about the lawyer, but part of what I'm trying to decide is how smart it is to push this issue. Nowadays I can't get a response to my emails, but at one point I had a good relationship with this publisher, which is one of the best in the business. Also, as a separate point, I don't even know how likely it is I can resell the rights. At one point I looked into getting an agent (I sold my book without one) but I couldn't find anyone interested in representing a reissue.

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    I saw Richard Stallman give a talk a year or two ago and one of the things he advocated was a copyright that expires in 5 years. He used an example almost identical to your situation as part of the justification. – Joe Jan 27 '15 at 21:30
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In some cases you can terminate the transfer of copyright and get your rights back. For works published after 1978, the termination start date would commence 35 years after publication, and you can initiate this process in the decade before this 35 year mark. https://rightsback.org/

Some contracts are written to have different termination procedures, so ultimately it depends on your initial agreement.

One more thing. You can always buy back your rights -- although it may be costly.

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    "you can terminate the copyright and get your rights back" This sentence doesn't make any sense. Maybe you can terminate the contract, or license, in order to "get your rights back", but if you terminate the copyright (by specifically putting the work fully into the public domain, which I believe is a possibility in some countries), there are no rights that are exclusive to you, the creator of that work. – a CVn 2 days ago
  • Interesting that there is a path to this at all, even one that only works in certain circumstances. I peeked at your link and it's pretty complex. Not just to do it but to figure out if it applies in a particular case. – Cyn yesterday
  • My first instinct was "35 years! What good does that do me?" But then I realized, I'm not far outside that prior decade window (presumably starting at 25 years). Hard for me to believe! :o I'll keep this in my back pocket if I'm still facing this problem in other seven or eight years. – Chris Sunami yesterday
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It will depend on the terms of your contract. Try consulting a contract lawyer and look it over.

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If you have a contact at the publisher you could start by asking directly; but it sounds like you've been down that road. You could easily get the run-around here or talk to someone who has not the power to do what they may feel is a good idea. Business practices want to hoard IP, not release it.

If you have an agent, have a conversation and see if you can work the social network of connections. Even if you can't get the rights back, you might be able to engineer an environment where they want to reprint it; which it sounds like is what you're really after.

Finally, if the above two don't work your only option really is a lawyer. Might not be worth it. This type of thing in the states is basically a game of chicken played with your bank account. If you can be annoying enough and the contract is vague enough to have an opening and you live in the right state and you get the right judge and the lawyer on the other side believes certain things then this can work. It's a giant puzzle full of twisting nobs and twisting any nobs, your opponent can also twist (by spending money and time). Whoever is less interested, and less monnied will probably lose. If you're of equal interest/monetarily interested then it could be drawn out, stressful, and may burn bridges. But sometimes all you need is a strongly worded letter.

If you're on solid ground, you feel legally, then you could take the risk of doing what you think is your right and leave it to the publisher to prove you wrong. There is risk here. It's definately not worth doing without talking to a lawyer.

Mostly this type of thing sucks and its a reason to pay close attention to the contracts you sign when you sign them. Some things you just can't see coming.

Good luck.

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