Pearson Education Extends Scope of Permissions Licenses

Writer Beware has learned that Pearson Education, a major education services company (and the parent company of trade publisher Penguin), is currently requesting vastly extended licenses for copyrighted text and images that it has received permission from rightsholders to include in its print textbooks and other publications.

The original licenses were limited by language, territory, and/or format. Here’s an actual example: North American English rights only, for a first printing of 5,000 copies.

Pearson’s extension request expands that limited scope to include pretty much everything, everywhere. Here’s the exact language:

We are now requesting Extended rights for your selection(s) to include the following: All Languages, World Rights, Print Versions and Non-Print Media, Subsequent Editions, Derivative Versions, Disability Accessible Version and Promotional Use.

There’s no doubt that this expanded language reflects the growing importance of digital publishing, with its proliferation of non-print formats and erosion of traditional territorial rights. But it’s also alarmingly vague, and enormously expands not just the scope, but potentially the duration of the permission license.

My source for this information, an agent at a well-known agency, told me that when she contacted the third-party service that is handling the extension requests, she was told that she wasn’t the first agent to call with concerns about the expanded language. She and the author have decided to deny the extension.

“My concern,” she says, “is for authors without representation–that they would just sign [the extension] and not truly understand the repercussions.”


  1. A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more pre-existing works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”.

    I am reposting this definition of "derivative version" and while all that the publisher can do with an author/illustrators work is a little vague, some of these examples are simple to understand. "Adapted, transformed, movies, art reproduction" NOT permissions to be taken lightly nor given up for a flat fee.

  2. Even if the compensated the author as Victoria suggested, I doubt they'd be able to pay for the rights they're requesting. A simple inclusion of a duration would help a lot though…

  3. Danielle, the rights being requested are for permissions licenses–not for entire books. You can't include someone else's intellectual property in a book or other publication without first getting the rightsholder's permission–which you do by getting them to license you the right to re-publish their work in your book. Permissions licenses are what–for instance–allow the author or the editors of a textbook to include previously published photos or illustrations or excerpts.

    That's what Pearson is asking for here. In other words, it would only affect an individual writer if they had published something that Pearson wanted to excerpt in one of its textbooks or other publications–or if they had already given Pearson permission to do so.

    Also for clarity: Pearson owns Penguin, but it's a separate company and as far as I know, this permissions language is being used just by Pearson.

  4. Christine, I really don't know exactly what's meant by derivative versions–which I think is part of the problem; this permissions language is just too vague for comfort.

  5. I wonder how many people are signing these things without reviewing them or understanding them first? IANAL, but it sounds to me from the wording like you're virtually giving them all rights to the work for however long the agreement is in force. Scary stuff.

  6. If you were still wanting to publish with them, could you ask for rights instead of the extended ones? Or is it best to just go to another publisher entirely?

  7. I'm a student as well as an author. I've had a couple of runs with books put out by Pearson. It looks like they take the text and partition it into pieces to meet the particular school's goal for that class. Going online would cut the cost of the books to students, and that might help them. However, as an author, I'm twisted on this one. A student paying less means the author gets less. And how to control the distribution of online materials in any case? That always trips me up.

  8. Victoria, could you clarify what "deriviative" versions means? Could this constitute a totally different use/another book etc? I can see Illustrators being "used" even more then the Authors if granting these rights to Pearson.

  9. My source says they are offering compensation, but she and her author didn't get that far–she felt that such a grant would entail thousands of dollars, and Pearson would have balked at such an amount.

  10. Are they offering additional compensation for these rights, or just hoping that people won't notice and will hand them over for free?

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