Here's a letter that, when sent to copyright holders asking them about republishing of their works in Minicon program books, works fairly well to get useful, non-confused responses. Major pitfalls in writing such a letter are in:
- Making it too long so that people don't read it
- Assuming the recipients understand and/or care about various details of copyright law
- Making it appropriate to send to anarchist fans, professional writers, and everyone between, without offending any of them
- Asking the question too narrowly so that you get back the response "Sure, you can post my stuff on the web!" when the copyright holder probably would be willing to grant much more extensive rights to us.
Subject: Old Minicon program books and your copyright
Hi there. I'm Matthew Strait, the current Minn-stf archivist. I'm working on putting old Minn-stf and Minicon publications up on the web.
I'm writing to you because, although you might not remember, you contributed text, artwork or photographs to at least one Minicon program book. You might also have contributed to other Minn-stf publications, such as Rune. In most cases, these either explicitly state that you retained copyright, or there was no copyright statement and we assume the same. So I'm here to ask your feelings on further reproduction of your works.
If you need to know what it was you contributed before you can answer, just write me back and I'll let you know all the details. (I apologize for not having this up front; I have about 150 people to contact and it's faster this way.)
If you're happy with Minn-stf disseminating your contributions in whatever way we'd like, then please just let me know, and no need to read the rest of this e-mail.
Otherwise, here are some more nuanced options:
If possible, we'd like at least your permission to distribute the program books under a Creative Commons license that requires attribution be given, forbids commercial use, and requires people who redistribute do so under the same license. You can read about Creative Commons licensing at http://creativecommons.org. The advantage to this scheme is that it is a well-known method of distributing sharable content on the web while retaining some measure of control.
If that is too permissive, you could alternatively allow Minn-stf to republish with full all-rights-reserved copyright for your contributions. Please let me know if we need to ask for each publication. (We'll start with the web, but might want to do print editions later, for instance.)
Or maybe that's not permissive enough. You could declare that your contributions are public domain and that we can't put any restrictions on their use. Alternatively, many fans prefer a simple arrangement such as "distribute freely for non-commercial purposes".
And if none of those is quite right, please just let me know what works for you. We're very flexible.
Of course, if you don't want us republishing your works in any form under any conditions, we'd like to know that too.
NOTE: In no case will we use what you say to deny you the ability to use your works for your own purposes! (We can certainly put this in writing if you like.) Our goal is only to make it easier for everyone to access this content. It is also unlikely that Minn-stf will try to make a profit from republishing old program books (or whatnot). However, it is possible, so you should let us know your feelings on that if need be.