Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



Your Out-of-Print Book on Kindle?

At a conference in Ghana a few years ago, several younger African historians were astonished to meet someone whose name they knew from a monograph on pre-colonial Nigeria published back in 1978. Though I was alive and kicking, they knew my long out-of-print book only from dog-eared photocopies passed from hand to hand. Why not make e-copies available, I thought, but the publisher, Oxford University Press, is not yet ready to free up any of its considerable out-of-print backlist. I have been more fortunate in resurrecting two other works that had also exhausted their print lives. Ohio University Press had surrendered the rights to my monograph on the Congo (Zaire) at the time it went out of print, and, when I asked, Cambridge University Press readily granted me full rights to my study of indentured labor. I am gratified that both have been downloaded dozens of times in their new formats. Some day, I hope, OUP will realize that scholarship once issued in book form should be made as accessible as back-copies of journal articles have become. In the meantime, scholars need to keep up the pressure on publishers to cede the rights to works that are no longer revenue producing.

David Northrup
History Department

Did you publish a book that is now out of print? Although the publisher may not be interested in reprinting or promoting it, there are opportunities to breathe new life into your work and obtain new readers.

Once a book is out of print or a number of years have passed, copyright may revert to the author. This can be automatic or may require affirmative steps. If you have an older work that is still useful to readers, you can refer to your publication contract or check in with your contact at the publishing house to see if copyright can be transferred back to you.

If you have retained copyright to your work, or if copyright has reverted to you, the Boston College Libraries can help you give the work new exposure through our membership in the Open Content Alliance (OCA). OCA is the collaborative effort by cultural, technology, nonprofit, and governmental organizations from around the world, working to build a permanent archive of multilingual digitized text and multimedia material. OCA content is hosted by the Internet Archive.

The Boston College Libraries have contributed more than 1,400 titles to the OCA initiative. Our initial contributions emphasized rare and unique content. In preparation for the Boston College Sesquicentennial celebration, recent contributions have emphasized historical BC materials such as the SubTurri, The Well (the Newton College of the Sacred Heart Yearbooks) and the BC alumni magazine. The Open Content Alliance maintains a very sophisticated scanning operation at the Boston Public Library and scans works for OCA members for a reasonable fee. The Boston College collection of contributed material is available to browse on the Internet Archive website.

Recently, we have had the opportunity to contribute two works authored by Prof. David Northrup of the History Department. Copyright of the works, published in 1988 and 1995, had reverted to him. You can see the resulting digital works in the Boston College Collection:

You will notice that many versions of the work are produced, and each is fully downloadable. In addition to html and pdf versions a Daisy version can be accessed by the visually impaired, a Kindle version available for use on the Amazon e-readers and an ePub version for more universal e-reader access. Each work has a permanent url that can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.

Statistics on downloads are available right in the record for each item. In the first 3 months that Beyond the bend in the river was available, it was downloaded 82 times. Compare this to the 238 copies available worldwide in libraries, according to WorldCat. Assuming that the number of downloads holds fairly steady, it is clear that exposure and accessibility of the material is greatly enhanced.

In addition, a little-known provision of U.S. Copyright Law could help BC authors regain control over their works. Section 203 allows authors to notify publishers that they wish to take back copyright to their works published after January 1, 1978. Publishers must be given at least two years notice, and there is a small five-year window in which the termination of copyright transfer can be done (35 to 40 years after publication). So, the first rights regained by authors under this provision will be freed up in 2013, assuming notice had been given at least two years before.

Provisions of this section are fairly exacting and can easily trap the unwary. If faculty authors are interested in taking advantage of the provision, please take a look at the Copyright Office explanation and regulations about the termination notice. Feel free to contact Jane Morris, the Scholarly Communication Librarian, for help interpreting the copyright transfer termination rules.

If you have retained copyright to any of your work, or if it has reverted to you for any reason, you have a great opportunity to give it new life and worldwide readership through the Boston College Collection in the Internet Archive.

Jane Morris
Scholarly Communications Librarian