Authors Alliance is encouraging its members to consider reverting rights to their out-of-print or commercially dormant titles in order to see those works made more widely available. Stephen D. Sugarman, the Roger J. Traynor Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law and an Authors Alliance founding member, writes below about his recent experience in making one of his books available online.
John E. Coons, William H. Clune, and I published Private Wealth and Public Education with Harvard University Press (Belknap) in 1970. In the book we showed how wealthy public school districts around the nation spent considerably more money per pupil (while imposing lower tax rates on their property owners) than did low wealth school districts; and we advanced a legal argument as to why this regime should be declared unconstitutional by our courts. The book had a big impact in many states and on the education law literature – an impact that continues to the present as lawsuits challenging school finance inequalities remain vibrant around the nation. But, although the book is not technically out of print, Harvard is understandably not promoting it, and new copies have not been sold in some time. It is available in many libraries, but we suspect that many potential readers would be much more interested in having online digital access (with searchable text).
To ensure that the book will be able to reach these readers, we asked Harvard University Press for assistance, and the Press kindly returned all of the publishing rights to the book to us (although Harvard technically retains the formal copyright and told us we would have to pay to have that assigned to us). While we did not have a digital copy of the book to release, we were pleased to find that it had already been scanned from the library of the University of Michigan, and that it has long been discoverable (though not readable) via both HathiTrust and Google Books. The letter that Harvard provided to us sufficed for HathiTrust to provide us with digital copies for our own records, and to unlock the full version of the book for the public at large to read and share under a Creative Commons license. We are hoping next to get Google Books to also unlock access to the full text.
We believe that Private Wealth and Public Education still has much to offer and are glad that it has this new opportunity to reach more readers online.
Share your own success story! If you’ve already used our Understanding Rights Reversions guide to make your work more available, please contact us at email@example.com. We’d love to hear about it.