There are many reasons why you might want to buy the rights to a book: for example, if you want your publisher to publish a certain book in your country or sell the work of a foreign author or if you want to film a film or television series based on in that book. All published authors have the copyright on their works, which means that they are the only ones who can reproduce them and create other derivative works from them (such as films). Therefore, if you want to buy the rights to a book, you must consider what you can offer the author and contact the right person to start the negotiation.
Part 1 of 4: Identify who is the copyright holder
Step 1. Determine who is the copyright holder of the book
If you are an editor, this will not be difficult, as this information is usually found in the manuscript of the work in question or in the cover letter.
Authors also generally reserve television and film rights for their works. Therefore, if you intend to film a movie or television series based on that book, it is most likely that the owner of the rights for it is the same as the copyright of the book
Step 2. Check that copyright has not been assigned
There may already be a producer interested in making a movie based on the book in question, so the author may have already assigned the copyright to this person. If you live in the US, you can confirm it through the Copyright Office.
- You can perform an online search on this entity's website.
- When searching, you should focus on records both before and after 1978. You may find more records after this date, but you should still look at the earlier records.
- If the author has already assigned the copyright to someone else, there is nothing you can do.
Step 3. Call the author
To confirm that the author is the copyright holder and that the copyright is available, you must call the author directly, as you will not be able to negotiate the purchase of rights that have already been assigned to someone else.
If you are a producer, you should get the author's phone number, which is usually on the copyright registry. If you can't find it, contact the publisher of the book
Part 2 of 4: Buying the rights to a book as a publisher
Step 1. Know who to contact
Depending on your status, you will have to negotiate with a different person, so you must determine who is the right person to contact to make an offer for the rights to the book.
- As a publisher, you must negotiate with the author's agent or directly with him if he does not have an agent.
- If you are a foreign publisher, contact the publisher that originally published the book, as they usually have staff specialized in copyright with whom you can negotiate. There is also the possibility that you will have to negotiate with a subagent.
Step 2. Determine what advance you will offer for the book
Publishers generally give the author an advance (that is, a sum of money), which is deducted from any royalties the author earns in the future. That is, if the advance you offer the author is $ 10,000, he will only start receiving royalties for each book he sells once they have reached $ 10,000.
- It is not easy to determine a reasonable amount for an advance and this will vary greatly depending on the author. For example, if they are not a known author, you may not even have to offer them a sneak peek.
- Advances are paid in installments (for example, you pay one third to the author when he agrees to sell you the rights to the book, then another third when he sends you the manuscript, and the last third when the book is published).
Step 3. Determine the royalty rate you will work with
These rates are usually standard and do not differ much regardless of the terms of the contract, but you should understand how they work before negotiating. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:
- Royalties on books are usually a percentage of their selling price. For example, if a book has a sales price of $ 25.95 and the royalty rate is 15%, the amount the author will earn from the sale of each book is $ 3.90.
- As a publisher, you should base your royalty rate on the net price of the book, as this is what you will receive each time a copy is sold.
- Royalty rates are also typically graduated, meaning that the rate increases as more copies of the book are sold.
Step 4. Have all the necessary information at hand
Before signing a contract with you, the author will most likely need some information from you as the publisher. Therefore, you should have the following details on hand:
- the print run of the first edition (for example, 10,000 copies)
- the publication schedule
- the local sale price
- marketing plans
- the amount of the advance
Step 5. Show interest in the work in question
To do this, you need to call the right person (be it the author, the agent, or the publisher) and discuss how much you are willing to offer as an advance and how many copies you expect the first edition to run. If this is not enough for the author or it differs greatly from his expectations, he may reject your offer.
You should also talk about your publisher. For example, you should be able to send the author or his agent a brochure or list of the works that you have published. This is especially important if you want to buy the rights to a foreign book, as the author or agent will most likely not know the reputation of foreign publishers
Step 6. Negotiate the details
To facilitate the contract drafting process, you must agree with the author on the details of the publication of the work before drafting the actual contract. These are some important points to address in the negotiation:
- publication formats (for example, e-books, paperbacks, hardcover books)
- the copyright holder (can be the author or publisher)
- the corresponding currency
- the publication schedule
- the duration of the license
- additional rights, if applicable (for example, the right to obtain a new authorization for the relevant geographic area)
- proposals for changes
- the price and availability of electronic files
- the person who must obtain permission for the reproduction of illustrations or images
Part 3 of 4: Buying an Option Contract as a Film Producer
Step 1. Understand how option contracts work
Film and television producers often do not buy the rights to a book outright because they may not be able to secure the financing to produce the movie or series. Therefore, they buy what is known as option contracts. These contracts give a producer the right to buy the rights to a book within a specified time frame.
Step 2. Ask the publisher of the book for an authorization form
After you've done your search to determine if copyright has already been assigned, the book publisher must sign what is known as a publisher's authorization form to confirm that they are not the owner of the rights you want to buy.
Step 3. Determine the duration of the option contract
You need to keep a deadline in mind, as an author will not sell you the option to buy the rights to their book for an unlimited time. Generally, the standard is between 12 and 18 months, but 18 months is usually the most convenient.
You can also negotiate to be entitled to one or two extensions of this term for the same price
Step 4. Determine a reasonable price you want to offer for the option contract
This will depend on how popular the book is and whether the author has received offers from other people to buy option contracts. If the book is not well known, you could even pay nothing but under the promise of doing your best to get to produce the movie or series.
- Instead, if the book was moderately successful and was published a while ago, a reasonable price might be $ 5,000. In general, you should consult with other people involved in the business to get a better idea of what constitutes a good deal.
- Generally, you should weigh the price for the option contract against the price you will pay for the rights to the book at the time you decide to buy them.
Step 5. Negotiate with the author or his agent
Once you have determined how much you want to bid for the option contract, you must negotiate with the author or his agent. Make sure to express interest in their work and feel free to be the first to make the offer. The negotiation process should address the following considerations:
- The price for the rights to the book: you should include this when negotiating the price for the option contract rather than leaving it for later, since the price you offer for the rights to the book will be closely linked to the budget that you will have at your disposal for the film. For example, a common offer for the purchase of the rights to a book is usually 2.5% of the final budget of the film. Don't forget to also set limits on the amount you will trade (that is, the minimum and maximum amounts).
- Net Earnings: Authors typically receive a percentage of net earnings, although this may not be an important consideration if you're making a student film.
- The right to buy the rights to the sequels: If the book turns out to be very successful, the author could publish sequels. Therefore, you must ensure that you have the right to buy the rights to the sequels before any other producer.
- The restitution rights: the author is likely to demand restitution rights as protection in case you buy the rights to the book after buying the option contract but never produce the film or series.
Step 6. Buy the rights to the book
After purchasing the option contract, you can purchase the rights to the book once you've secured financing for the film or series, written the script, and selected the cast. To do this, you must follow the procedure specified in the option contract.
For example, the option contract could specify that, to purchase the rights to the book, you must send a written notice or perhaps simply begin the principal photography of the production
Part 4 of 4: Write the contract
Step 1. Get a lawyer
It is your obligation as an editor or producer to draft the contract, for which you must work with a lawyer, who could help you even in the negotiation stage. One way to achieve this is by asking for recommendations from people involved in the field.
If you cannot find a lawyer this way, you can also contact your local bar association and ask for recommendations from lawyers who specialize in the copyright of literary works
Step 2. Get contract samples
In certain circumstances, such as a student film production, you may not be able to afford an attorney to help you draft the contract. In this case, you can look up contract samples online and tailor them to your particular situation.
- For example, Columbia University Law School has a sample contract to purchase the rights to a book online.
- The American Bar Association also offers a sample option contract.
Step 3. The author must review the contract
Before drafting the contract, you should have already reached an agreement with the author on all the negotiating points. However, after the draft contract is written, the author should review it in case they have suggestions for important changes to discuss.
Step 4. Sign the contract
Both parties must sign the contract and the author or agent must keep a copy. For your part, you should keep the original contract in your workplace or in a safe.