Permissions come out of the shadows into the limelight
In my first job in publishing, it was down to me to do the permissions. This meant granting other authors the rights to use extracts from our books in their own publications. It was viewed as a humble and fiddly job, and one I was glad to leave behind when I got promoted. Even so, I was proud that the income from my work on permissions always more than covered my salary, which is a good feeling in your first job (or maybe I should have had a higher salary …?).
In the digital age, the humble ‘permission’ is becoming the focus of attention.
There are so many things that can go wrong. When I received a request to quote from a book, I first had to make sure it actually was our book: have the rights reverted to the author, or is it part of that list we sold to another publisher a few years ago? If there isn’t a copy of the book in the office, it’s even harder to tell.
For an author applying for permissions, it’s even worse. How do they find the right person to ask for the rights? It’s not uncommon for requests to spend weeks going round the houses.
Is this a problem that can be solved by technology?
PLS thinks it is. The Publishers Licensing Society has a huge database telling them which publisher owns which books, that it uses for distributing photocopying fees. Why not open this database up to the public, so it can be used to point permissions requests in the right direction? The result is PLSClear. (www.plsclear.com)
I was lucky enough to work as a rights consultant on the development of PLSClear. On the way, I met a lot of publishers, and discussed permissions with them.
The frustration was evident: sometimes it feels as if publishers have to spend more time investigating the rights status of the book and re-directing requests, than actually doing the permission. That’s time that could have been spent doing something more interesting and more profitable – like clearing that backlog …
PLSClear launched at Frankfurt 2014, and gradually more people are finding it, and using it. My hope is that it will cut out that fruitless cycle of email, hope for the best, wait, repeat. Authors know their request is going to the right place first time. And publishers receive a much higher quality of request, filtered through the PLS mill, and can get on with their job, bypassing the frustrations.
Oh, and it’s not just for books. You can use it to clear the rights to use an extract for anything – film, radio, TV, mugs – anything.
It makes the world a slightly better place.