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           Accommodating Book Content Change Requests
 

It is not uncommon for an author to review their published work and request changes and this presents challenges for the publisher. Authors sometimes desire that specific passages be re-written for clarity, desire grammatical corrections, and for technical books, the author may request corrections to equations and code listings.

A publisher, also desirous of improving the content of the work, is tempted to antecede to these requests. Unfortunately it is impossible to change a book once it has been produced, registered and distributed. There are several impervious barriers to making changes to a published work:

Federal Registration

When an application is made to register a book with the US Library of Congress, a master copy of the book is sent to Washington DC and a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) is issued. At this point, the book is a matter of public record and cannot be changed. Revisions may only be made by re-publishing the work as a subsequent edition.

Distributor Independence

Book distributors have sole discretion about accepting changes to published works. Distributors are independent entities and neither the author nor publisher has the right to insist on changes to any works marketed by a distributor. Distributors often invest thousands of dollars in the marketing and infrastructure for a book, and they have the sole discretion about whether or not to supercede a book with a second edition. In the absence of a fast sales velocity and a compelling business justification (i.e. greatly improved content), requests for changes are routinely denied.

Limited Publisher Rights

Publishers commonly contract with the author as a work-for-hire and the publisher purchases exclusive copyright to the work. In cases where the publisher sub-contracts with a third-party printer (e.g. the DBAZine book series), the publisher does not hold copyright to the material and has no rights or obligation to change the content.

Limited Author Rights

Book authors have long attempted to maintain control over their works after they have sold them to a third party. US case law is replete with attempts by authors to enforce the medium of distribution, placement and marketing of the work and many other issues. For example, Gary Trudeau unsuccessfully attempted to force newspapers to publish his “Doonesbury” comic strip as a full half-page. A famous science fiction writer once tried to force his publisher to re-order a book of short stories because he did not like being closely associated with a competing author.

To understand the limitation of author rights we can use historical examples. The legal system considers the work of producing Intellectual Property to be the same as an artist who produces a painting. Once the artist sells the painting, they sometimes complain that the painting is displayed in a non-prestigious art gallery, hung with the wrong background color, or displayed next to another painting that they find offensive. Of course, none of these challenges has been successful.

In sum, the owner of their work, not the author, has sole discretion of where and how their property is displayed and presented.

Disclaimer: This content has been produced by someone with no education or training in legal matters and none of the above should be relied upon. For definitive legal rulings on these issues, please consult “Judge Judy” or “The Peoples Court”.
 

 

 

 

   

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