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Author sends ultimatum to UM Press regarding publishing rights

Friday, September 7, 2012 | 7:55 p.m. CDT; updated 9:48 p.m. CDT, Saturday, September 8, 2012

COLUMBIA — After what he calls as a lack of communication from administration, Don Spivey, a professor of history at the University of Miami, said he will pursue legal action if he does not receive the subsidiary rights to his book back from the University of Missouri Press by Oct. 8.

Spivey sent a letter dated Friday Sept. 7 to Deborah Noble-Triplett, assistant vice president for academic affairs in the University of Missouri System, who helped oversee the transition of press oversight from UM to MU. The letter, sent certified mail, was directed at other administrators including UM System President Tim Wolfe, Chancellor Brady Deaton and others. 

In the letter, Spivey wrote: "The University of Missouri has failed to respond accordingly to all of my previous requests for the return of my publishing rights since the public announcement of the intent to close the University of Missouri Press. Hence, I have no choice but to pursue legal recourse."

Speaking from his home Friday, Spivey said his attorney, who specializes in intellectual property rights, is "absolutely positive that we will win" his case. Spivey seeks financial restitution for breach of contract, loss of revenue and the personal trouble the upheaval around the UM Press has caused him.

In May, Wolfe announced that the press would be closed. That met with strong negative reactions from academics and writers who worked with the press, among others. In July, the administration announced that the press would still be open but transition to a new model with digital printing. Before that, however, at least 40 authors requested their publication rights back. On Aug. 28, responsibility for the press shifted solely to MU.

Spivey said he had to cancel all publicity for his book, "If Only You Were White," a biography of baseball great Leroy "Satchel" Paige that the UM Press published this year. He said other publishers have contacted him about printing his book, but until he has his subsidiary rights — the right to publish in a different form than the original — back he can't publish.

"I don't want to do this, I don't want to sue the University of Missouri," Spivey said. "Give me my rights back so I can get on with my work."

Spivey said everyone's reputation is hurt by a situation like this, particularly those in academic institutions who are up for tenure and need to be published.

Ned Stuckey-French, who is working with other authors to get their rights back,  said he is one of several authors ready to move forward with other publishers. Stuckey-French, an English professor at Florida State University, published "The American Essay in the American Century" with the UM Press last year.

Forty authors have signed a less formal letter calling for former press editor-in-chief Clair Willcox, who was fired in July, to be re-hired and their publishing rights returned. These authors have begun work with an attorney in a joint case to get their copyrights and publishing rights back, said Stuckey-French, who has been appointed to work with the lawyer.

Stuckey-French said that when the press was closing, authors were given the option to have their rights back if their works had not yet been published. Both Stuckey-French and Spivey said the UM System administration has not sufficiently responded to their questions since the announcement that the press would not close.

"We're not going to wait," Stuckey-French said. "We want an answer."

MU spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said that requests to return rights would be considered on an individual basis and that as of Friday afternoon, Noble-Triplett and Richard Wallace have responded to each author who has contacted them. Wallace is a former MU chancellor who was appointed with Noble-Triplett to oversee the transition to a new press.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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