Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Price of Permissions

For my upcoming book of interviews with writers (Don Finkel, Carl Phillips, Ntozake Shange, Tess Gallagher, and so on) I've had to request from the copyright holders permission to reprint samples of the authors' work. Here's how it goes in real life:

Don Finkel: Son holds the rights, and granted them free.

John N. Morris: Requires an epic nationwide search to locate the John J. Morris who is Morris's son and the copyright holder. Finally located by Washington University, Morris grants permission free.

Graywolf Press: Holder of Carl Phillips and Tess Gallagher rights. Asking to reprint one poem from each, I filed requests online. In five days comes the Carl Phillips permission, costing $30. In three weeks comes the Tess Gallagher permission, costing $150. Graywolf says this is the author's designated price. I wrote the author to ask her to give me a break, but secretly I think it's great that a woman has the nerve to charge $150 to repint one of her poems.

St. Martin's Press: It's hard to find a shorter Ntozake Shange poem that isn't part of a play, but I did, in Riding the Moon in Texas, and faxed St. Martin's Press for permission. They granted it for $50.

As a sidelight, while researching permission rights I discovered it costs $5000 to quote from the song "Hotel California," specifically the line, "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." It seems that's because "you" will never be able to pay the bill.

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