France’s law authorizes the publication of OP orphan works without the permission of the (unfound) rights holder The IPKat informs us. (Link via The Digital Reader.) This seems to me entirely desirable, and shows that the French are as usual more concerned with preserving their culture than with the strict enforcement of individual rights favored in the Anglo-Saxon countries. Vive la différence. It appears though that this situation may be incompatible with EU law. Must we look for a Frexit after the narrowly averted Grexit, and the imminently possible Brexit?

The French for “out of print” appears to be épuisé, “exhausted”. Exhaustion is no longer a condition against which publishers have to struggle in quite the same way. We used to have to write endless, exhausting letters to authors explaining to them why we couldn’t afford to reprint their book in spite of their certainty that civilization as we know it would cease if this particular work were to become unavailable. Our recently devised cunning trick of keeping a book in print for ever, first by tiny reprints and finally by making it available through print-on-demand, has meant that authors never get to reacquire their rights. If the publisher has a license to publish, it used to lapse when they were no longer “publishing” the book, i.e. when it went out of print. The sales potential of many books is of course exhausted itself by that point, making the reacquired rights virtually worthless, but some few would still offer potential income to an author eager to republish elsewhere, especially in an updated edition. Now as the book never goes out of print, the publisher is still “publishing” it, even if only one copy is sold every few years.

It is this change in the meanings of “in print” and “out of print” which makes calls for an expiration clause in publishers’ author-contracts suddenly relevant. Of course nobody should expect the publishing industry itself to decide collectively to “do the right thing” — such collusion would in any case be illegal — so it seems unlikely that we will any time soon stop hiding behind our usage of “in print”. While it used to mean that you could theoretically turn up at a warehouse and see one or more physical copies of a book, now it just means that although we may not actually have any copies on hand  we could at any moment print you one. So “in print” has now freed itself from any strict reference to printing, and just means “available for sale” — a condition which used to be synonymous with the literal sense. Of course the French are more direct: in print for them is disponible “available”. Terms are just terms, and we can’t always expect them to be literally accurate. “In print” even in the days before POD was never the exact opposite of “out of print” in the way that “available for sale” would be the exact opposite of “no longer available for sale”. The idea of the availability of an e-book meaning that the book is in print is just another layer of absurdity.

The Bookseller‘s FutureBook blog suggests that the situation is different in Britain where publishers are readier to negotiate expirations of leases of rights. I’d be surprised if the French weren’t similarly inclined.

I wrote about In print and out of print in the early days of this blog, back in 2010.