Whose is the literary ownership of a book published without a contract?
In the field of copyright you need to differentiate between moral and financial rights. The first ones consist in the author’s right to be recognised as such and therefore to see his name on the published works, in the reviews and in all other public occasions. This type of right is inalienable, no transmittable and not subject to prescription: consequently it will always obligatorily remain in the name of the author. Instead, the second ones consist of the power of financial exploitation of the work and can be given to others or to an editor who binds himself to publish the book, making an income and giving a percentage on the book price to the author. The surrendering of the financial rights is done through an “edition contract”, inside which methods, times and payments for the printing of the work are detailed.
The fact that an editor publishes a book lets you understand that there has been an agreement with the author, otherwise he would have had to steal from him the manuscript, therefore there must be a contract, but there might not be a written one and this is where the problems occur. The law provides that the contract of publication must be proven in writing, therefore if there is no document it would be very difficult demonstrating the contents of it, which is essential to know. It is the contract that states if the right has been surrendered “upon edition” or “at term limit”: in the first case the author gives the right for one edition and therefore any re-printing must eventually be agreed; in the second case he gives the right for a certain period of time during which the editor can do as many reprints as he wants. Therefore it is not simple to answer to this question: we need to know in what manner the rights have been paid, how long has the relationship lasted, how many prints have been done, and from all these circumstances we could try reconstructing the contents of the agreement which surely was there, but has not been put on paper.