You can say that again (with permission)

You can say that again (with permission)

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UI Press rights and permissions manager plays increasingly vital role in evolving publishing world
apple with copyright symbol sits atop books with illustration showing chain links and open padlockPhoto illustration by John Paul Schafer.

The first-class writing published by the University of Iowa Press covers many subjects: Whitman or Shakespeare, prairie or poetry, memoirs or medical literature. This creates demand not only from readers but also from other writers and publishers who wish to reprint UI Press material.

So when material is sought for use in an academic textbook or a church bulletin, Lydia Crowe is the UI Press gatekeeper in this respect. As the rights and permissions manager, Crowe is responsible for licensing the content for both commercial and educational use.

Lydia Crowe
Lydia Crowe

The role played by Crowe, who is pursuing a Master of Arts in education (foreign language/ESL emphasis) in the University of Iowa College of Education, is vital in this day and age, according to UI Press Director James McCoy.

“Issues of copyright, fair use, and piracy have always been complicated but with e-books, licensing of electronic content, the desire from some quarters for open access, and more aggressive interpretations of fair use laws, the rights and permissions department has been put front and center in any publishing discussion,” McCoy says. “There are a lot of perspectives and agendas, both nuanced and conflicting, within all these issues, and Lydia has helped the press develop policy and respond to these developments both in theory and in practice.

“She has embraced learning about the very complicated world of copyright and, to my mind, is as knowledgeable about a publisher's legal responsibilities and limitations as many of the full-time rights and permissions professionals I've worked with.”

When Crowe receives a letter from, say, a large textbook company that wants to reprint a chapter from a UI Press book, she begins the approval process. The first question: does the content in question belong to us in the first place? If so, she calculates the price—typically a set fee per page, although negotiation isn’t out of the question.

“We have to take a number of things into account, like the size and budget level of the requester and the current state of the economy," Crowe says. "Since most university presses are nonprofit organizations, like us, we might lower or waive the fee for them.”

The fees help UI Press in the area of revenue generation; Crowe says the press received about $14,000 in permissions fees last fiscal year. (“It is a smaller piece of our net revenue, but it is not insignificant,” McCoy says.) But in addition to helping the press, these fees help out the authors of the material being reprinted.

“Consider that authors typically get a 7 to 10 percent royalty average—they are publishing for prestige, not sales,” says Crowe. “We help authors by splitting permission fees 50/50. It’s good to compensate them; often the authors spend lots of money securing permission for reprints in their own work.”

So what draws the most requests? Crowe mentions Poems from Guantánamo, edited by Marc Falkoff, as the most popular. This collection gives voice to some of the hundreds of men held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Available only because of the tireless efforts of pro bono attorneys who submitted each line to Pentagon scrutiny, Poems from Guantánamo brings together 22 poems by 17 detainees.

“These poems have been reprinted for courses, in poetry collections, in newspaper articles, journals, church bulletins…you name it,” Crowe says. “It's also been translated into 10 languages and adapted into dramatic productions, dance, and song.”

And, Crowe notes, half the permissions fees for those uses go to the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization dedicated to human rights and civil liberties.

Crowe doesn’t just spend her days saying “yea” or “nay.” According to McCoy, she was aggressive in reaching out to and brokering deals with vendors that had not been active partners in the past. “For instance, she's worked with an audio book company to license our content—an area in which we've never had a presence before,” McCoy says. “Often, once these partnerships are formed, the vendors keep coming back for more.”

Crowe spent time digitizing and cataloging contracts and rights and permissions material. “To my knowledge, we are the only university press to have accomplished this goal,” McCoy says. “We are far ahead of the game because of Lydia's hard work.” McCoy also cites Crowe’s foreign language expertise as a huge asset as permissions requests become increasingly global.

And even though Crowe says piracy isn’t a huge problem for UI Press (“we fill a niche market,” she says), she is seen as a knowledgeable resource on the subject. Crowe has been invited by the American Association of University Presses to speak on a panel about Internet book piracy at this summer's professional conference.

One final thought: Not every case of reprint needs a ruling from Crowe. One particular example she shared involved a woman seeking permission to send a poem from a UI Press book to a friend in a private email.

“It is nice that she asked,” Crowe says.


Christopher Clair, University Communication and Marketing, 319-384-0900


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