Republishing a book

Tracing copyright owners and asking permission.
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Quellcrist
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Republishing a book

Post by Quellcrist » Tue Jul 08, 2014 9:17 pm

Hi,

here is the situation:
I am interested in republishing some books (wargames rulebooks) from an author that passed away 25 years ago.
To this end i tracked any relatives he might have had, i found that he was married and had children that were all still alive.
So i took contact with his widow and children, there isnt much economic value in that republishing but i wanted to do things right.
After preliminary talks, his estate (which i believe under estancy law would be the copyright owner) has given their permission (pending a contract). However those books were originaly published about 30 years ago by a small company and the widow of the original author is worried of legal troubles. As it turns out i had already tracked that company and found that it was dissolved 10 years ago.

However it seems the assets of that dissolved company have been sold and resold multiples times since, to end up with a company that i managed to tack down as well, i contacted them to check what their side of the story was but they went silent as soon as i talked about publishing right, copyright ownership and royalties payments (i believe they might have done some reprints 8 years ago, but the author widow hasnt seen a penny in more than 20 years).

My question: in the absence of any written contract (nobody seems to have a trace of the agreement that led to that printing 30 years ago), who own the copyright? I believe it to be the estate of the original author.
Does the current owner of the assets of the original publisher have any claim regarding further printing of those books?

ps: i m based in France but as the original author and the work were originaly published in the UK i believe UK laws to apply.

Thanks in advance

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Tue Jul 08, 2014 11:13 pm

Hi Quellcrist,
The key to this issue lies in what, if any, contract existed between the author and his publishers. Since you say there does not appear to be any trace of whatever agreement may have existed back then, I think it is fair to assume that the author retained copyright, and that the right has now passed to his estate under the normal rules of inheritance. Therefore you should be entirely free to deal with the family, and you need not deal with anyone else.
Any rights in the published edition would only have lasted for 25 years from the date of first publication, and so have now lapsed. If you produce, with the family's permission, an entirely new edition (different layout, typeface etc) then you will be entitled to a new copyright in that published edition which will last for 25 years.
And yes, I think you are correct that English law applies in this case.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

Quellcrist
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Post by Quellcrist » Wed Jul 09, 2014 8:39 am

Thanks a lot for your answer it clarifies and is in line to what i was thinking.
As a further question, is it actually possible for an author (or his estate in this case) to sell the rightful ownership of the copyright? if this was sold and documents can proove it (which is not the case here) doesnt the author or his estate retain moral rights ?

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Wed Jul 09, 2014 9:34 am

Hi Quellcrist,
Yes, the lawful owner of a copyright can sell that right. It is done by means of an assignment, which is a kind of deed. There is no prescribed format but it must be in writing and must be signed and dated by the copyright owner. There are several places you can find pre-written examples online (such as here) but really it's such a simple document to prepare that you don't need to go to that expense. For your protection I suggest that including a witness and your own signature (as assignee) would be sensible precautions.
And you are right to differentiate between the copyright and moral rights. The main moral right in this case is probably the paternity right, that is to say the right for the author to be credited as such. But this right has to be asserted (either by the author or his estate) and it can be waived. If it is to be waived, this must also be done in writing. The moral rights of paternity and integrity (ie the right not have a work treated in a derogatory manner) last for the term of the copyright. The moral right not to have a work falsely attributed to an author lasts for 20 years after the death of the author. Moral rights cannot be assigned or transferred other than by testamentary disposition, and the author's heirs remain the only people who may bring an action for breach of any of the rights, or who may issue a waiver of those rights which may be waived.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

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