How much? Textbook writer stung by permission fees

Professor faced multiple charges for material vital to undergraduate texts, writes Melanie Newman

August 6, 2009

An academic who has written a trilogy of textbooks during his retirement has hit out at the copyright costs he encountered.

When Chris March, former dean of the faculty of environment at the University of Salford, decided to produce a series of undergraduate texts on construction management, he had no idea about "the minefield of obtaining permissions" he was about to face.

The Construction Industry Research and Information Association asked for £25 for permission to reproduce a table on waste from Environmental Good Practice on Site (2005), while the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) wanted £50 plus VAT for a table in its A Guide to Life Cycle Costing for Construction (1986).

But this was nothing compared with the £300 plus VAT demanded by the Office of Public Sector Information (Opsi) to reproduce the Managing Health and Safety in Construction and Design Management Regulations 2007, never mind the £750 plus VAT the British Standards Institute (BSI) demanded for the use of clauses from a set of process-management standards.

Pearsons, the publishing firm, asked for £50 plus VAT for permission to reproduce a table, which Professor March managed to haggle down to £12.50. Penguin Books wanted £100 for the reproduction of a prayer, but agreed to waive the charge after negotiations.

In contrast, the Chartered Institute of Building and Building magazine gave Professor March free access to everything he requested.

Professor March's publisher, Taylor Francis, declined to pay for the permissions. The projected royalties from the books, based on 1,000 sales of each, was just £3,000.

In a letter to John Denham, the former Universities Secretary, the emeritus professor states that he was "rewriting the appropriate parts of the textbooks to eliminate the material with fees attached, which is a pity as it devalues the work". He did not receive a reply.

The organisations that charged Professor March defended their fees. The BSI pointed out that it was a "self-funding and non-profit distributing organisation".

Jim Wretham, head of information policy at Opsi, said the charges were "in accordance with government policy and regulations on the reuse of public sector information", but added that Opsi was reviewing them and that "core" government information could be reproduced free of charge.

A spokeswoman for RICS said: "It costs to develop our content. The author was seeking permissions from many different sources, and this is not something we can account for when trying to recoup some of our own costs."

The Publishers Association said it no longer issued guidance on permission fees, which were now a matter for individual organisations.

Graham Taylor, director of educational, academic and professional publishing at the body, said: "Intellectual property means that if it is your material, it's your right to determine the means by which it is published. Any author ought to respect that."

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