Scholars and Publishers: A New Twist to an Old Story?
Editor's Note: The following was written at the request of the AHA's Professional Division. The division hopes that Professor Nicosia's account of the difficulties he has encountered will alert other historians to the need to protect their rights as authors.
What follows is one manifestation of a larger problem that seems to arise all too frequently in the working relationship between scholars and publishers. As I have discovered this past year, my experience, although unique in some ways, is not entirely unlike the experiences of other scholars with whom I have compared notes. How many of you have been left in the dark, in one way or another, as your publishers pursued further plans for your books?
My first book, The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, was published by the University of Texas Press in the spring of 1986. With my consent, the UT Press entered into an agreement with a British publisher, I.B. Tauris Ltd. in London, and printed a British edition for Tauris. It appeared in England simultaneously with the American edition.
The book deals in part with the very sensitive question of the role of Zionism in Nazi Jewish policy during the 1930s, before the mass murder of European Jews in World War II. It demonstrates how the Nazi state used Zionist ideology and the German Zionist movement in its effort to achieve the dissimilation and the expulsion of Jews from Germany between 1933 and 1939. The exploitative and coercive nature of Nazi policy toward Zionism and the Zionist movement in Germany is one of the main questions that the book addresses; the others are Nazi attitudes toward Arab nationalism and the role of Great Britain in Hitler's foreign policy. All three—Zionism, Arab nationalism, and British imperialism, the three components of the triangle that was at the time the "Palestine Question"—are considered as elements of the domestic and foreign policies of the Third Reich before World War II.
On December 20, 1988, a colleague telephoned to inform me of a catalogue of the German publisher Druffel-Verlag that he had by chance come across. This catalogue announced the fall 1988 publication of a German edition of my book under the title Hitler und der Zionismus (Hitler and Zionism). Thus, I first learned of this German edition at the very time that it was published.
Apart from being kept completely in the dark about something as important as a foreign language edition of my book, I was shocked to think that my publishers had entered into an agreement with Druffel. The Druffel-Verlag is located in Leoni am Starnbergersee, Bavaria. The Federal Ministry of the Interior of the West German government, in its Verfassungsschutzberichte (Reports on the Protection of the Constitution), as well as the government of the state of Bavaria, have classified the Druffel-Verlag as an "extreme right-wing publisher," one that publishes books designed to, among other things, trivialize or whitewash the crimes of the Third Reich. Moreover, Druffel's Director, Dr. Gerd Sudholt, is mentioned in these Interior Ministry reports as the publisher of Deutsche Monatshefte (German Monthly), a publication that, according to these reports, has vilified Germany's democratic parties and politicians, has called for maintaining racial purity, and has talked about a coming "Fourth Reich" in which "...there will be no place for anti-Fascists. The path to self-discovery for the German people will be over the ruins of the concentration camp memorials." Needless to say, I would not have chosen Druffel-Verlag to publish my work.
I telephoned UT Press on the morning of December 21, 1988, to demand an immediate explanation as well as action to have the Druffel edition stopped. In that conversation, the Rights and Permissions Manager at the UT Press denied any knowledge of the matter, but promised to look into it. On the same day, the UT Press wrote to Tauris, with copies to Druffel and me, demanding a halt to all sales of this "unauthorized German translation" of my book and requesting a copy of the Tauris-Druffel contract—something that the UT Press would later admit (on August 16, 1989) it had already received on April 26, 1988. On December 21 and repeatedly thereafter, I warned the UT Press about Druffel's reputation and agenda, and the consequent likelihood of damage to my professional reputation as well as to that of the University of Texas that any association with Druffel would bring. I told the Press about the distortions and the cheap sensationalism that Druffel used in its catalogue to describe the contents of my book. Since the book deals with the very sensitive questions of Nazi-Zionist relations and German policy in the Middle East, the possibility of a distorted translation by a publisher like Druffel had to be taken seriously.
After its initial denial on December 21 of any knowledge of the matter, the UT Press later informed me that British publisher I.B. Tauris had negotiated an agreement with Druffel early in 1988, almost a year before I was to learn about it, and that the UT Press had in fact been aware of and had approved the deal from the very beginning. On February 24, 1988, in a letter to Tauris, Texas approved the financial and other arrangements that Tauris had negotiated with Druffel, stipulating only that Texas, as copyright owner, was alone responsible for issuing and signing the contract with Druffel. In that letter, the UT Press expressed its willingness, upon verification of Druffel's address, to draw up the contract and send it to Druffel at once. At this early date, neither Texas nor Tauris saw fit to inform me about their plans for my book.
According to the UT Press, Tauris apparently decided to act on its own and on April 26, 1988, informed Texas that it had issued and signed a contract with Druffel. On that date, a full eight months before I knew anything and before the book was published, the UT Press received from Tauris a copy of the Tauris-Druffel contract. Texas has maintained throughout that Tauris was not legally empowered to do this, and that the Tauris-Druffel contract is, therefore, invalid. Yet to my knowledge, once having learned that Tauris and Druffel were in the process of formally violating its copyright, the UT Press took no action to stop the German edition when it was still possible to prevent publication, i.e. before the book was produced. Nor was I told about the matters at that time. Texas advised Tauris on May 12, 1988, that it would not accept its share of the royalties agreed to on February 24, 1988, because the Tauris-Druffel contract was not valid. Again, I am not aware of anything having been done at this point to prevent publication of the book when it was probably still preventable. Again, I was kept entirely in the dark.
In the early summer of 1988, I spoke on the telephone with the Rights and Permissions Manager of UT Press about, among other things, the possibility of a German language edition of my book. I knew nothing of the Druffel matter at that point and the Rights and Permissions Manager did not mention it during our telephone conversation.
Some seven months later, on December 20, I received the unforgettable phone call from my colleague about the Druffel catalogue announcing the publication of the German edition of my book.
On January 25, 1989, the director of the UT Press notified Druffel-Verlag that its German edition was unauthorized and that all sales and promotion must cease. To my astonishment the UT Press also offered in that letter to sign a contract with Druffel to legitimize the book if I approved the translation, despite my repeated warnings since December 21, 1988, about Druffel's politics and reputation.
On February 13, 1989, the UT Press sent me three copies of the Druffel book and requested that I examine and return one copy with corrections and comments. When I sat down to read the Druffel book, I remembered the Texas offer to Druffel of January 25 to issue a contract if I approved the translation. I then discovered that, notwithstanding its sloppiness, mistakes, incorrect quotations (my English translations of quotations from original German documents were simply re-translated back into German), distorted dust jacket with misleading title and sensationalist advertising, etc., the translation did not attempt to distort the information, organization, and interpretation of the original. I concluded that the UT Press was disinclined to believe what I was telling it about Druffel and would not stop the book on the basis of Druffel's politics and reputation alone and would certainly not now when I was about to tell the Press that the translation, with all of its problems, did not fundamentally distort the original. Desiring to put this affair behind me, I proposed a distasteful compromise in the comprehensive assessment and recommendations that I submitted to the UT Press on March 17, 1989: take the Druffel edition off the market and destroy it, and prepare another edition properly, thereby insuring that the German product would at least be as good as the original English one, even if published by a disreputable publisher. The UT Press never responded to my assessment and recommendations.
I regretted that offer, and withdrew it on May 3, 1989, for two reasons: I had received in the meantime even more shocking information from Germany about some of Druffel's other publishing and political activities; and the UT Press would simply not respond to my assessment and recommendations of March 17, 1989.
The UT Press continued its silence into the spring and summer of 1989. I was fearful that, having learned from me that the main text was not distorted in the translation, the press would sign a contract with Druffel. Therefore, I began to ask colleagues and professional organizations in my field in North America, Europe, and Israel to write to Texas in my behalf. The many strong letters from colleagues and professional associations to the UT Press during the spring and summer of 1989 supported what I had been telling the press all along about Druffel, protested the manner in which the press was treating one of its authors, and urged action to have the Druffel edition removed from the German market.
In the summer of 1989, after several frustrating months of trying without success to learn the intentions of the UT Press, I informed The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B'nai B'rith about the problem; I also filed a formal complaint against the UT Press with the Professional Division of the American Historical Association. I had every reason at that point to fear that the UT Press had decided to go ahead and sign a contract with Druffel, thus legitimizing the Druffel edition of my book. The Chronicle decided to do a story and began making its inquiries at Texas in July and August. The ADL also looked into the matter at the UT Press at about the same time the American Historical Association began its inquiries.
The UT Press broke its silence on August 16, 1989 in a memorandum from the Press's director for distribution to all who had written in my behalf. It declared that the Press had not and would not sign a contract with Druffel to legitimize the Druffel edition. The memorandum seemed to imply that the affair was largely my fault because I had never submitted a list of unacceptable German publishers, had never asked to see the translation (recall that I did not know the Druffel book existed until it was published), and because I was so eager to see a German edition of my book.
On August 31, 1989, after seeing the press's August 16 statement, I wrote to the director of the UT Press to express my relief and satisfaction at having finally learned that the UT Press would not sign a contract with Druffel. I corrected the misleading assertions in his statement and urged the UT Press to protect its copyright to my book with the following words:
"The UT Press owns the copyright to my book and is responsible for its protection. It has stated from the very beginning that the Druffel edition is unauthorized and that Druffel's contract with Tauris is illegal. A way must therefore be found to have the Druffel book taken off the market in Germany. Druffel must also be made to realize that it does not own the German language rights to my book for the future. When I signed over the rights to my book to the University of Texas Press on November 13, 1984, I fully expected it to protect my work and my name. If copyrights are to have any meaning for me and for other scholars in the future, then I must maintain that expectation, even if it is not always realistic."
I also offered my full cooperation in this effort and generally in bringing this unfortunate incident to an end. I repeated that offer in a follow-up inquiry on September 27, 1989. On November 20, 1989 I received a letter from the UT Press in which I was told that the Press was also urging Tauris to purchase and destroy the unsold inventory of the Druffel edition.
After considerable time, effort, and expense, I am hopeful that I have effectively distanced myself from any responsibility for the Druffel edition of my book. Yet the book remains on the market in Germany, my name and my work still publicly associated with the Druffel-Verlag and thus, indirectly, with its politics. The Druffel book remains a serious embarrassment to me and to the University of Texas.
I offer this experience to the wider academic community in the hope that authors and publishers will derive some lessons from it. Scholars, particularly those eager to have their first book published, should not (as I did) sign away all rights to their work. They must not hesitate to retain certain rights and prerogatives. This is especially important if the subject matter is of a politically sensitive and controversial nature; in that case, I would certainly recommend contract provisions that guarantee authors the right to approve publishers and translations for foreign and foreign language editions. Publishers should consult with their authors, even if they are not contractually bound to do so. They should look into the background and reputation of foreign and other publishers with whom they do business. They should also work with their authors when problems arise and not ignore them or try to sweep the problems (along with the authors) under the carpet and simply wish them away. Clearly professional courtesy does not cost anything and usually makes good business sense.
If publishers insist on retaining copyrights, then they must be prepared to protect them. It becomes their responsibility to protect the integrity of their authors' work and names; in so doing, publishers will in the long run be protecting their own interests. Perhaps it is time for scholars, their professional associations and publishers to join together to adopt mutually agreeable contract guidelines that will protect and promote the interests of authors and publishers alike.
—Francis R. Nicosia is an associate professor of history in the Department of History, Saint Michael's College, Vermont.
Please read our commenting and letters policy before submitting.