Sunday, 26 May 2013

French government to seize copyright on out-of-print books published before 2001

A curious French plan known as 'reLIRE' is in the offing which could have serious consequences for authors - SFF or otherwise - who have published books in French prior to 2001.

Under this plan, if you published a novel, novella or short story in France prior to 2001 and it is now out of print, the work would now be considered 'orphaned'. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France is placing all such works on an online database. Writers and copyright-holders have six months to check the list and register that the story is still in copyright. If they do not, the works will be auctioned off to publishers to use as they see fit, with them keeping almost all of any resulting profits.

If you do have such works, you have to fill out a form (currently only available in French) and provide a valid French ID card number or a passport number. If you don't have a passport, tough. If you don't spot the story on the database in the first six months, tough. If the author has died and his or her family or heirs fail to act on any of this, tough.

So far, works by SFF authors including Robert Silverberg, George Alec Effinger, Ursula LeGuin, Samuel R Delany, Vonda McIntyre, and Roger Zelazny have been found on the database.

The initial database list was issued on 21 March. This means that authors, their representatives and heirs have only four months from now, until 21 September, to act on the issue or risk losing control of their works in France.

More on this alarming story here and from the Science Fiction Writers of America here.


Hannah @ Once Upon A Time said...

Oh my god that's terrible..

Anonymous said...

Well, this has disturbing ramifications. 2001? They didn't think that was too close to today's date? Especially since copyright can easily be renewed on things, you'd think that they'd check to make sure the copyright had indeed expired and not been renewed before they started digitizing everything, instead of making the copyright holders track everything down themselves. How is this anything but semi-sanctioned piracy?

Anonymous said...

I'm fine with it. Just as with any physical property, if you abandon anything you should lose your rights to it.

Adam Whitehead said...

How is a book going out of print in one country 'abandoning it'? It's not in the author's remit or power to make such decisions, and if the book is not selling the French publisher will not waste money on keeping it on shelves instead of newer, potentially more successful books. Ebooks, of course, are a different matter.

This is a simple cash-grab by a government desperate to raise funds by any means necessary.

Chris said...

While the implementation should be more flexible (longer warning period, targetting older books), I like the principle.

I don't think the government is getting any money from it; the publishers, on the other hand, probably benefit from this.

Also, it is possible to withdraw from the database after the 6 months have elapsed. I'm not sure what the legal situation would be (whether the rights would still be granted for the whole 10 years or not; I'm not a lawyer!).

While writers should indeed react, over-dramatization is counterproductive IMO.

Anonymous said...

Hard to believe some of the comments that I am reading here. If anyone outside of government tried to do what the French government is doing they would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and they would lose. In other words it is legalized plunder, and should not be tolerated under any circumstances.

Adam is correct it is a cash grab. It is a cash grab because the French government has been overtaxing everyone. In some instances certain French citizens have been taxed over 100% of their income!