The great thing about trying to coordinate book production over three continents is that whatever time of the day or night it is, there is always someone you can ring. I just wish we were working with more people in Japan so I’d have more to do in the hours when the Americans have left work but the Europeans haven’t got up yet.
I’ve hit a momentary lull, so here are some mental notes-to-self on the business of getting permission to reprint figures and excerpts from other people’s books, articles and websites (I am not a lawyer, so there may be errors in my understanding here – it’d love to hear any corrections/qualifications people have):
If I publish something again I will try and keep copyright of the figures, so some money-grabbing publisher isn’t trying to charge people to reuse them 60 years after my death (resulting in them not being reprinted usually)
If I write something again I will start on the figure permissions early. I imagine this is the sort of thing all authors write on their New Year’s Resolutions list, tell their children, have on an embossed plaque above their desk, etc.
In fact, I may even employ someone else to do the figures (preferably someone in publishing who understands the whole damn thing). Unfortunately this means that if write something again I will need to be being paid about 10 times more to be able to afford to outsource any of the work at a decent hourly rate.
Emailed permission from publishers/professionals is acceptable (e.g. from the publishers of a journal which holds copyright for the figure in a scientific paper which they’ve published ). These guys know what they are doing. Permission from an individual/unprofessional needs to be in writing, signed. When they say “It’s fine” they don’t really know what they are agreeing to (especially since you don’t really know what your publisher will do with the material), so you need to make them read the form and agree to it.
Organisations and individuals alike forget about your permission request. Ring them after you’ve emailed them. Keep tabs on all your permission-requests, chase everything after about 10 working days (maximum), don’t let anything drop from your responsibility on the assumption that the other party will do anything about it (rearrange the words “disaster”, “recipe” and “for” to make a common phrase or saying).
If the figure/excerpt you are using is a minor part of your work, and/or a minor part of the work you are reprinting from, make sure the copyright holder is aware of that
Properly credit everything. It’s a pain to try and source things which other people have used without giving a full acknowledgement of the origin. Sometimes you will just have to go to the library to fully source something. This is worth doing – it is often definitive (compared to google) and sometimes very rewarding (when you find out that something is copyright free or public domain for instance).
There are ways round copyright with derivations/redrawings, but I don’t understand them at all. Find out more about this
Some things you will just have to drop.
 Another part of the general scam of scientific publishing. Scientists (paid by public money often) write, edit, peer-review and proof the articles for free, draw the figures, etc, etc and then the publishers hold the copyright and make money by selling the journal back to the University libraries (also paid for by public money).