The Growing Costs of Copyright Permissions

I am the co-author of a textbook on Corporate Governance published by Lexis.  The book, although designed for a course that may not exist at most schools, has done well enough to require a second edition.  A dynamic area, plenty of developments have occurred over the last four or so years.  

As part of that process, copyright permission needs to be obtained for articles excerpted in the new edition. This is a laborious task since the textbook uses excerpts from more than 80 articles and books. The excerpts are generally modest in length, ranging from 500 to 1000 words.   

Most law reviews (and authors) are pleased to have an excerpt of their article appear in the textbook. Permission is readily given and free.  The same is true with most law reviews.  

A number of reviews, however, have assigned the task of obtaining copyright permission to the copyright clearance center.  In these circumstances, payment to use an excerpt is required.  In general, the payments are modest in amount, ranging from around $20 to around $60.  In a handful of cases, however, the cost for the excerpt was $200 or more.  The reason for the differential was unclear.  Apparently at least some permissions are based on the number of pages from an article, without consideration of the size of the print run or the actual number of words contained in the excerpt.        

Given the modest print run (the publisher estimates that it will print approximately 500 copies of Corporate Governance) and the modest budget for copyright permissions ($1000), the book cannot afford to absorb very many permissions of $200 or more.  In some cases, law reviews were flexible and willing to adjust the charge. One review waived the fee, another dropped the amount to $100 per article.  In other cases, however, the reviews offered at best modest discounts.  Thus, one review that initially wanted almost $700 for short excerpts from three articles was willing to accept about $500.  

What to do?  One possibility would be to keep all of the articles, pay the fees, and personally absorb the unreimbursed costs.  Another would be to keep only a few of the more expensive articles, perhaps those deemed "classics."  In the end, the decision was not difficult.  In the corporate governance area, there are numerous high quality articles in law journals that do not charge or that charge modest amounts.  Substitutes abound.  The Second Edition will, therefore, have five or six fewer articles from top 10 journals, including the three from the review that offered to take $500.  

Presumably law reviews benefit economically from the current fee structure.  Thus, it may be rational to impose a fee that at least sometimes results in the deletion of articles from a textbook.  Moreover, with the decline in subscriptions, other sources of income may have increased importance. Authors, however, may have a different perspective.  Yet their view was not, at least overtly, a part of the approval process.          

J Robert Brown Jr.