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Can I assume that the rights to my history book Frontier Theatre (Sono Nis 1983) reverted wholly back to me when the book went out of print around 1992?

The contract was a standard pre-digital royalty book contract. People can access my book piecemeal via Amazon and Google books or whatever, by paying (much to my disdain, as I am getting zero remuneration for what has become a standard academic reference work).

Can I "Kindle" the book myself? Should I approach the existing online re-publishers?

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There's an old saying: it's easier to ask forgiveness than seek permission. A book you wrote has been out of print for nigh 20 years? What are the odds the publisher, if it even exists and even if it found out and even if they did in fact retain the rights, would care whether you put the book online? And in the unlikely case they do, they'll send you a C&D (cease and desist) letter, which you will obey promptly and politely.

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Your best bet is to contact your publisher and ask. I'm in a similar situation. I contacted my publisher and am awaiting an answer.

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That's more a comment, isn't it? –  John Smithers Apr 24 '11 at 15:36
    
Changed to make it more definitive.. –  Lynn Beighley Apr 24 '11 at 17:49
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The thing is: Not all publishers wrote their contracts to revert the rights back to the author just because the book went out of print! The fact that they were doing nothing with the book does not necessarily mean that the rights revert to you.

You need to have your lawyer look over your contract. If you can't get hold of your contract (you lost your copy, for instance), then you might have to go back to the original publisher (or better, your agent if you had one) to ask for a copy.

If they don't have one either, then you'll need to work out with them whether the rights reverted or not. It's possible they completely do not care, and thus may be willing to say 'yep, all yours!', but you won't know till you ask.

If you can't get hold of the contract one way or another, then proceeding without getting the publisher to say it's yours is risky - they could suddenly (and stupidly) decide to hassle you.

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As a side note, this should serve as a warning to all authors to KEEP THE PAPERWORK! FOREVER! If you have your contract, you can answer this yourself, or by giving it to a lawyer for a few moments. Without the original contract, you are stuck with guesswork and asking the other guy. Also, you probably want a revert-on-out-of-print clause in all future contracts. –  Michael Kohne Apr 24 '11 at 23:28
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I make sure to keep a printed and an ecopy of all of my contracts, just in case. I highly recommend people back up their contracts just as you would you writing. –  Ralph Gallagher Apr 26 '11 at 1:32
    
Stupid question, maybe: how can/could they hassle you if neither party has a copy of the contract (ignoring for now the possibility that they suddenly find a copy somewhere in their filing cabinets)? –  Jürgen A. Erhard Apr 29 '11 at 23:19
    
Oh, and can't you hassle them if they deny you the right to republish it, and thus denying you direct and indirect income? –  Jürgen A. Erhard Apr 29 '11 at 23:21
    
@jae - It's shaky, but if neither one of you has the contract, then it's entirely your word vs. theirs. If they wanted to make an issue of it (because, for instance, they were just that kind of jerk), they could probably force you to show up in court and defend yourself, thus costing you more than you'd ever make republishing. And while you might be able to hassle them similarly, they can afford to be hassled far more than you can. For the OP, the best thing to do is to get the contract from the publisher, OR get the publisher to sign off on him reprinting. –  Michael Kohne Apr 30 '11 at 13:34
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