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The Book Builder's Blog

On The Book Builder’s Blog, C. D. Tavenor discusses the art of crafting novels, from the very beginning concepts that form stories to the editorial processes involved prior to publishing. The blog goes beyond just storysmithing; it considers all the pieces necessary to construct a complete book!

The Rights of Copyright: Your Bundle of Rights!


Two weeks ago, we talked about copyright, and what it means to own the copyright to your book.

In that blog, I promised we’d explore the bundle of rights contained within the “copyright” you hold for your book. Almost all of these rights can be “acquired” by a publisher when they form a contract with you. So without further ado, let’s begin! I’m distilling a lot of information found in the Chicago Manual of Style, in addition to my own research. Seriously, every author and editor should own a copy of that book. It’s been a life saver!

The Rights of Reproduction, Distribution, and Display
Reproduction. Distribution. Display. The three fundamental rights of copyright. As an author, you have the exclusive right to reproduce your writing, distribute your writing, and display your writing!

So what do these words mean?

Reproduction. When you make a copy of your work, you reproduce it. No one can reproduce your work without your permission.

Distribution. When you provide a copy of your work (or the original) to another person, you distribute your work. No one can distribute your work without your permission.

Display. When someone displays your work online (suppose in an online magazine), they may only do so with your express permission, just like the right of distribution and reproduction!

These three rights fundamentally define what it means to own the copyright to your novel, short story, or other writing.

Derivative Works and Performance Rights
The next two rights contained within your little bundle of rights, derivative and performance rights, relate to works based on your story.

Derivative Works. When someone translates your story, technically it’s a derivative work. However, you still own the rights to the story. So when you commission someone to create a translation, you still own the right to that derivative work.

Derivative rights include all of the following: dramatizations, motion picture adaptations, sound recordings, and abridgments. Similarly, even when you submit your manuscript to an editor, they make revisions, and your manuscript changes; you still own the rights to that modified work!

Performance Rights. Performance rights aren’t as relevant for written work (except for short pieces like poetry). But they’re still important! If you write a story, you own the rights to the performance of that work. Only you have the right to stand up and read your story to a crowd, for example, but other people need your permission to similarly perform your work.

Moral Rights
My investigation has uncovered a curious category of rights! Moral rights. People can’t mutilate your work, especially in such a way that would damage your reputation. Moral rights are separate from your economic rights (explained above). You don’t contract these rights away to publishers!

Suppose someone downloads your story, changes it up in terrible ways, and re-posts it while attributing it to you. Most likely, you’d be able to make a legal claim against them for disparaging your moral rights associated with your copyright.

Subsidiary Rights
You thought all those rights sounded complicated? Just wait until you learn about the laundry list of subsidiary rights you can utilize as an author!

Subsidiary rights, and the associated permissions, are specialized rights that only apply in particular contexts. To learn about all of these rights, I’d suggest picking up a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style (I know, I say this a lot), but here’s the list.

  • Original-language rights outside the original publisher’s territory

  • translation rights

  • serial rights

  • paperback rights

  • book-club rights

  • reprint rights

  • right to reproduce in braille

  • dramatic rights

  • audio rights

  • electronic rights

  • Enhanced electronic rights

  • rights for scholarly use

  • rights for educational use

Wow! That’s a massive list of rights. If anyone wants me to explore these subsidiary rights in further detail, comment below, send me a Tweet, DM me, or shoot me an email!

And while this blog explored our bundle of copyrights at the surface level, I’m always willing to go deeper. What’s that mean? I can explore case law, drop statutes, and explain legal arguments that dive into the nuances of these rights. Just let me know what you want to know!

Hopefully, you’ve now learned all of the rights you own (though perhaps not yet in detail). But now, when you’re talking with a publisher, or an editor, or a literary agent, you’ll know the terms they throw around when they toss contracts in your face. And as an attorney, I must urge you to always consult an attorney before you sign a complicated contract like a publishing agreement. SORRY. Had to say it.

Until next time,

C. D. Tavenor