© author; © publisher

For those of you who notice these things, would you agree with me that copyright for books  is usually claimed by authors? That is, following the © symbol is usually the author’s name. This is even if all the common rights of copyright –reproduction, distribution, transmission — are to be from cleared from the publishers . An example of something like this is encapsulated by the copyright notice found in Larry Lessig’s Republic Lost: “Copyright © by Lawrence Lessig. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or tramsmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.”

However, not all copyright notices look thus. I’ve discussed the variety found in copyright claims before. Here, I want to draw attention to copyrights in books that are claimed, not by the authors, but their publishers. For instance, Richard Posner’s How Judges Think carries the notice “Copyright © 2008 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College”. (It is published by Harvard University Press, which is under the control of the President and Fellows of Harvard College.) Likewise, I think all books by Oxford University Press are copyrighted by Oxford University Press, Inc.

Without consulting the individual contracts for the publications of these books, I don’t think one can say what differences a “© Author” versus “© Publisher” make. The only thing that seems definitive to me is the duration of copyright that a natural author can claim versus that by a corporate author. Under § 302 of the Copyright Act of 1976, a copyright work (created after in or after 1978) lasts for the “the life of the author and 70 years after the author’s death”. In contrast, copyright in a work for hire –the case in which a corporation can claim authorship –“endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication, or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first”.

If there are presses which sometimes claim copyright and at other times publish books copyrighted by the authors, then I suppose the age of the authors is a factor in determining which copyright path is pursued. Few copyrighted works, however, have commercial viability anywhere near 70 years. Thus, I would guess that any difference this “© Author” versus “© Publisher” makes is swamped by the contract terms. For those of you who have signed a contract with a publisher (congratulations!), would you care to weigh in?

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