There’s a spirited little discussion between writers going on in the LinkedIn forums. Mostly on the “How does a writer get an agent in 2012” thread. I read several comments regarding copyright, where authors wanted the rights to their work returned and had difficulties getting the necessary permissions from their previous publishers.
Not being a lawyer, but fairly switched on legally speaking, my younger stepdaughter passed her law degree with honours and specialised in that area. So we have had discussions.
The thing is, when you sell a book to a publisher, what they are buying is the ‘right to publish’ for a given edition. If the writer has not been so blinkered by excitement of getting a deal and signed away everything. Did that once for a short story. Never again. The specific rights sold might be the US / UK book rights, the publishing rights for a screenplay based on your work, forget what they’re called, have to look them up. Anything like that. Only complete newbies sign away all the rights to a given piece of work, but then we’ve all been there. Excited and bright eyed because you’ve actually sold something, and so desperate not to lose that sale that you don’t bother to read the deal on the table.
Well, that’s my understanding. However, with the current boom in eBooks, print on demand services and self publishing, the field is wide open. This may mean the days of the publishers advance are coming to an end, but the self publisher seems to get a bigger slice of the pie, so better royalties.