Licensing in K-12 publishing…

Publishing houses follow an elaborate process of seeking, negotiating and acquiring permission from copyright holders (who could be the original writer, an estate, a literary agent, a relative, and so on) to use the material that they wish to include in their book.

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Deepa Baruah, Vice President, Publishing, Headword Publishing, shares her views on licensing in K-12 publishing and the challenges faced by publishers.

“In school publishing, all the content that is created is built around the prescribed syllabi of various educational boards. This precludes most content creators from giving vent to their imagination, as the need to stick to the mandated pedagogical guidelines is of paramount importance.Thus, all authors or content creators work within the same parameters, and being experts in their subject areas, more often than not, not much licensing of material is required, except perhaps for images, pictures, maps and diagrams,” says Deepa.

The Indian context…

“In subjects like maths, science, social studies and so on, there is a specific syllabus that needs to be followed by content developers, therefore the core content remains pretty much the same across books. What separates the wheat from the chaff, however, is the treatment and explanation of concepts, the quality of the activities, exercises, images and illustrations used, the layout design, paper quality, etc. In these subjects, licensing is mainly limited to images, photographs, diagrams and illustrations,” she says.

“In an ELT course, on the other hand, by virtue of the fact that a good number of literary pieces – both prose and poetry – are selected on the basis of their merit, the sourcing of licensed material becomes an all-important process. All respectable publishing houses follow an elaborate process of seeking, negotiating and acquiring permission from copyright holders (who could be the original writer, an estate, a literary agent, a relative, and so on) to use the material that they wish to include in their books,” she adds.

The process of copyright permission…

“The process of seeking copyright permission to use text or images per se is simple enough. Once the original copyright holder is identified, a mail is sent out with details of the text like the ISBN, publishing year, edition and title of the book from which the text has been selected, with a polite note seeking permission to use the material. In most cases, this should suffice, however, in some cases an elaborate form has to be filled in providing additional information. A fee is then quoted by the copyright holder (sometimes it may be waived) which may or may not be negotiable depending on one’s skills in this area. Once that is settled, and the terms and conditions laid out are accepted by both parties, written permission is granted and the publisher is free to publish the piece without fear of any infringement or of reprisal,” tells Deepa.

“In case of images, most publishing houses either commission artists to do the artwork and/or acquire the permission to use images, photographs or diagrams for a paid subscription or as a one-time fee, as the case may be,” she adds.

The publishers’ angle…

“Publishers are becoming increasingly aware of the downside of copyright infringement, and surely nobody wants to get embroiled in a lengthy and acrimonious legal battle that could stretch for years on end! Most international and domestic publishers follow an elaborate process of acknowledging the work of others in their books by devoting a dedicated space with the credits listed clearly. Every text and image are duly credited as they should rightly be,” she shares.

Challenges faced…

“Though the process is simple enough, it is fraught with its own set of issues. For instance, sometimes, identifying the original copyright holder itself may prove to be a daunting task. But that’s only the beginning of the struggle. The copyright holder may take an interminably long time to respond or may not respond at all, despite reminders. So, the poor editor or content developer, has no other option but to replace the material at the eleventh hour. Everyone works within tight budgets, and therefore, sometimes when the copyright fee is too steep, an editor with good persuasive skills may be able to negotiate a feasible amount and avoid a last-minute scramble for replacements. But some individuals, agents or estates can be quite unrelenting,” shares Deepa as a matter of fact.

“Besides, some international publishers do not entertain electronic mails, so that fact complicates matters as the process can get uncomfortably delayed,” she adds.

On rights and licensing in the digital era…

“For one, it has made the tracking down of copyright sources so much easier and faster. Also, many literary agents and estates, and some writers too have a standard format for permission seekers which are generally available on their websites and all one has to do is fill in the details and wait for them to respond. All the copyright information and legal implications of misuse vis-à-vis the content available is also posted on the websites thus shortening the entire process of rights and licensing. One has access to literally tons and tons of content available on the internet including those released under a Creative Commons license. Moreover, there are a number of free and paid software available these days that can track plagiarised material. Of course, law-breakers can find a way around that too!” concludes Deepa.

Deepa Baruah has been a publishing professional for twenty years, having worked at leading publishing houses like Macmillan India, Oxford University Press, Cengage Learning, Madhubun Books and Headword Publishing Company. She has also dabbled in the print media for a brief period after having spent a number of years as an educator.

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