Assignment of Copyright License
Please read the following to understand what this document is, and how and when to use it.
How you preserve your work for posterity is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a poet. It’s not something people generally like to discuss, but not discussing it leaves it in the hands of others. Even if those others care about you, there is no guarantee that they will know exactly what you have in mind, nor that they will be able to effect your wishes legally without your intentions having been clearly expressed in writing. The Haiku Foundation would like to help you arrange your situation exactly as you would have it. That’s why we have spent more than a year researching the issue and crafting the terms in which we might be able to help you realize your goals.
I come to this topic the hard way: from close recent experience where consequences were at best difficult, and at worst, totally negative. As you might know, I recently completed work on a large anthology of haiku, now published as Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years. For the final 18 months of that project I was primarily concerned with securing permissions to reprint the materials I had selected. In the course of this work I had been asked by my publisher to contact either the poets themselves or their publishing houses, whichever held the rights to these selections. In many instances this was a simple matter because either the poet was living and we could negotiate directly, or else because the poet’s interests had been legally turned over to a representative, most usually the poet’s publishing house, but occasionally an heir or literary executor.
In some instances, however, none of these things was the case, and that’s when things became much, much more complicated. I would like to take, for purposes of illustration, the situation of Foster Jewell.
Foster Jewell was a leading haiku poet of the 1960s and ’70s, operated a much-respected publishing house (Sangre de Cristo Press in Venice, California), appeared in all the early English-language dedicated journals as well as in all three editions of Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology. Foster Jewell was central to the early development of English-language haiku in the United States, and, simply put, he deserved to appear in my anthology. As to his willingness, the fact that he had appeared in other anthologies is at least suggestive that he was inclined to have his work promoted in such ways.
The problem, however, is that Foster Jewell left no indication of what he wished to happen with his literary estate. He did not have a literary executor, did not leave his own written instructions, and my several serious attempts at locating an heir or relative discovered nothing. As a consequence, Foster Jewell’s literary work, and future, were left in limbo.
Faced with the situation, the publisher’s lawyers did what they were paid to do—they identified this to be a potential risk to the company, and they balked at his inclusion. They demanded further proof that Foster Jewell would have wanted to appear in this volume, and since I couldn’t very well ask him, such proof seemed very unlikely.
As it turns out, I had a bit of luck: Haiku in English had the same publisher (W. W. Norton) as the third edition of The Haiku Anthology. Jewell had granted written permission to appear in it, so the publishing house actually had on file a record of Jewell’s previous willingness to be anthologized. This little bit of serendipity, along with the records of my searches, was enough to persuade the lawyers that publishing Foster Jewell in Haiku in English would constitute no real risk to W. W. Norton.
What would have been the consequence of not having such good fortune? At the least, a deserving poet would not have taken his place in an anthology that is designed to feature exactly the sorts of contributions that Jewell had made. And, presuming that Haiku in English does indeed become the basis of a reconsideration of the history of the genre, as I hope and intend it to be, it means his omission would potentially figure largely in future decisions about inclusion in anthologies—some future editor would actually have to rediscover him and make a case for him. And, at that point, they would still be in the same position I found myself, without an heir or literary executor to grant permission, and also likely not having the good fortune of having the same publisher as his last such appearance.
None of this needed to happen. It’s not lawyers, but poets, who are to blame in such instances. If Foster Jewell had appointed a literary executor, or left some indication in his will of his intentions, there would never have been any question of his inclusion, in my volume, and in the subsequent volumes that are sure to come over time. If Foster Jewell would have been left out, it would have been his own fault. But it would have affected all of us.
Of course, Jewell was not the only such case. This story was repeated many more times, and not always with such a happy and fortuitous ending. The purpose of my recalliing this is to make certain such a situation doesn’t happen to you.
I would like to suggest that you make your intentions known now—it’s never too early. If you don’t have a literary executor but would like one, get started. Do the research. Find out who you would like to entrust with this important task. Here are a couple places to start: Do-You-Need-a-Literary-Executor? and How-to-Choose-Literary-Executors.
Or perhaps you simply want to include this information in your will. Be sure to spell it out—if you don’t, others will need to do it for you. If you want people to be able to publish your work when you can no longer decide, you need to say so, and under what circumstances. The more specific you can be, the better.
What The Haiku Foundation Can Do
To these two excellent options, I would like to add a third. The Haiku Foundation, in collaboration with Spotts Fain, a law office in Richmond, Virginia, has created an Assignment of Copyright License. This document guarantees that your work will remain available for publication after such a time as you can decide in person. In effect, it gives the Foundation the authority to grant permission to reproduce your work.
The Foundation is not an agency, and will not seek publication for your work. And we are not staffed by lawyers, so we lack the ability to enter into complicated legal arrangements with individual poets. But the Foundation can and will hold rights on an individual poet’s behalf, and make certain that your work is not ignored (as might have happened to Foster Jewell) or misused (such as being used without permission, or without correct attribution). By holding your rights with the Foundation, you make the discovery of your intentions much simpler for future scholars and publishers.
You will see that the document is designed to favor these intentions: all copyrights, and therefore all reprinting rights, reside with you, or with your designated heir or literary executor. By signing this document, in the event that you do not designate an heir or literary executor, or if that heir or executor cannot be located, the Foundation becomes the de facto executor. When a publisher or editor then wishes to reprint your material, there will be a legal entity to represent your rights, and a legally acceptable way to guarantee that your work may be considered. The document also specifies the manner in which your work can be thus considered. Best of all, The Haiku Foundation is a known and trusted advocate for haiku, and will not seek a fee for representing you.
Our goal is that in the future, poets, not lawyers, will decide who gets included in the next big anthology, and that your rights as a poet are honored. We believe an Assignment of Copyright is one way to meet that challenge. If you agree that this plan best suits your needs, please fill out the form and return it to us.
I hope you will find this service eases your mind about your poetic bequest to posterity. I know it will make the creation of future anthologies and other offerings much simpler to research and implement. I only wish it had been available in time for Haiku in English.
Thank you for your consideration, and feel free to contact us about this, or any other haiku matter, at any time.
The Haiku Foundation