Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

29 May 2006, 13:06 p.m.

Someone Should Start This Business

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2006 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I do not have an army of rights and permissions lawyers. I didn't when I was devising a curriculum and teaching a class, and I don't now that I'm writing a column. I bet lots of writers, artists, teachers, musicians, small businesses, and so on wish they could pay someone else to take care of the crazyquilt intellectual property compliance so they can get on with their work.

There should be some sort of clearinghouse service so I could pay them -- monthly, yearly, per cleared work of art, per permission plus commission, whatever -- to do the messy legal work and give me peace of mind. Maybe it would even count as due diligence to hire them, and hiring them would protect me against negligence charges. And maybe it could just be online, or maybe it could be a national brick-and-mortar chain like H&R Block.

I figure it would work like this: I show up at their office (I already have an account with them) and I give them my unpublished piece. I tell them every allusion, borrowing, quote, etc. that I think I've used, and what information I already have about the sources. ("This is from the Ben Folds song Blah, this is from the Thomas Hardy novel Pier to Bavaria, this is a quote from Gavin Gunhold's poem Registration Day, this is a quote from the Starr Report.") And I tell them what sort of venue it would be published or displayed in, so they could get the right permissions. Then they track down the owners and get the permissions and bill me.

As you can see, I don't really know what's involved in the "getting the permissions" but I'm sure it's messy. So I don't have the expertise to start this business. Does it already exist? Should someone start it? H&R Block makes money by outsourcing compliance with the baroque tax code, so why shouldn't someone make money by outsourcing compliance with the baroque intellectual property system? Until Creative Commons wins and we get something sensible, of course.

You can comment on this entry.


29 May 2006, 13:14 p.m.

There should be a novel called "Pier to Bavaria" but there isn't, by Hardy or by anyone else.

A cool post on proverbs for entrepreneurs:

30 May 2006, 22:09 p.m.

Do you really have to pay every time you mention something in your articles? Like how much?

31 May 2006, 1:19 a.m.

It seems to me that this is one of the things that agents do, maybe?

05 Jun 2006, 14:23 p.m.

Kristen: there is no one set amount. If you publish a quote from something that someone else has copyrighted, sometimes you can do it for free, if you are quoting only a tiny proportion of the whole work, and sometimes you have to get permission. The company or person who owns the permission can charge you whatever they want. If you ever look at the very beginning of a book, sometimes you see a list of notices that quotes from songs, poems, and so on are with permission from the companies that own them. For quoting famous song lyrics, the music companies charge lots of money.

I don't quote that much in my columns, so I've never needed to buy permissions or get my editors to get permissions.

Zack -- if you have an agent, yeah, I imagine, especially for written text. Musicians and other artists, and teachers, probably don't already have managers or agents with core competences in IP law. And I bet agents who do have to wrangle IP would love to outsource that so they could concentrate on advancing their clients' careers.