Paperback righter

April 11, 1997

Not so long ago British academics looked disparagingly at their North American colleagues because of the yoke which ap-peared to constrain their academic lives - that of "publish or perish". That imperative now seems to have infected the British university system. Academics are under constant pressure to publish as much and as often as possible, partly for reasons of personal career advancement, but also to boost the research and funding ratings of their departments.

A minority of publishers is prepared to take advantage of this situation by treating scholarly work with impunity on the grounds that academics should be "grateful" that the work sees the light of day. Individual scholars are, of course, responsible for accepting or rejecting the terms offered to them for publication. Yet what happens when morality and law go by the wayside, as when publishers in-fringe the law of copyright and misuse or even steal one's intellectual property rights behind one's back? In the United Kingdom, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 made the deliberate infringement of copyright a criminal offence, so that punitive damages, greater than any actual damage to a copyright owner's market for originals, could be awarded in cases where copyright has been knowingly infringed. Where academic authors find that copyright has been infringed by their work having been published in a form without consent, they have a moral duty to institute legal action against the offenders. Such action should help to prevent the rot infecting the system.

In 1994, Routledge published a hardback volume of conference papers entitled, The Final Solution, Origins and Implementation, which was edited by David Cesarani. My 20-page contribution entitled, "How far did Vichy France 'sabotage' the imperatives of Wannsee?", based on extensive research which had cost me time and money, was noted in the volume as being copyrighted to me. Publication was arranged through the editor, but no written contracts were sent out by the publisher to contributors. I received Pounds 50 from the publisher.

Two years later, on April 19 1996, The Guardian published a review by David Cesarani, noting that The Final Solution was "shortly to be published in paperback by Routledge". I had received no notification that my contribution was to be used in this new form which was bound to make money by reaching a wider market. I allowed another month to pass before writing to the managing director of Routledge asking whether it was not at least a matter of basic courtesy that contributors to such volumes should be informed if their work were to be used in such a way. I received no reply to my letter, nor to two further letters. By the beginning of July 1996 I decided that enough was enough, and met with a solicitor specialising in the copyright law who confirmed that my rights under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 had almost certainly been infringed.

On July 10 1996 he wrote to Routledge, requesting a copy of the contractual proposals they "would wish to offer" me for the paperback edition. Just as the company had ignored all my letters, so Routledge seemed to have ignored that first letter from my solicitor.

Eventually, on September 6 1996, Routledge replied. They do not appear to have engaged a firm of lawyers to deal with the matter, but instead instructed one of their history editors to deal with my solicitor. Routledge acknowledged my ownership of copyright, pointed out that it was their custom with edited books that the editor was informed about future plans for such books so that he/she "contacts contributors with the information". They enclosed a "contributor's agreement" for me to sign, and offered me Pounds 50. Given the circumstances which had led to this correspondence with Routledge, compounded by the fact that it had taken from May 13 to September 6 1996 before the company replied, my solicitor and I rejected the sum of Pounds 50 as derisory. More significantly, a careful examination of the contributor's agreement I was expected to sign in September 1996 showed that it was meant to refer to the original hardback edition of the book. There was no reference to the paperback edition.

After more tiresome correspondence - by which time the paperback edition of the book was on sale in bookshops - Routledge effectively acknowledged that a breach of my copyright had been committed by them and offered me Pounds 100. That was rejected by my lawyer and myself in a letter to the company.

My solicitor suggested that a sum of money well in excess of the derisory figures which Routledge had so far offered be paid to me, with Routledge additionally accepting responsibility for my solicitor's fees. Early in January 1997, Routledge accepted these proposals, although my solicitor and I were not paid until late in February 1997.

Money was not my initial object in pursuing this case. I was determined not to allow principles of morality and law to be infringed. There is a simple moral for other academics offended against in ways similar to those described here: act immediately, not merely for your own sake but also for that of other academic colleagues.

John P. Fox is lecturer in Jewish history at Jews' College, London.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments