Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Authors: Fight for Your Copyright!

Signing publishing contracts are now more dangerous than it was fifteen years ago. Because fifteen years ago, books would go out of print, and then the contract would end. Now, books don’t go out of print anymore, thanks to ebooks and audiobooks.

Kristin Kathryn Rusch: "I’m waiting for the first big lawsuit from a writer against a publisher, as the writer tries to find a new way out of a contract.  Musicians have been filing those lawsuits for years now, and for the most part, getting no traction due to their signatures on the dotted line. Not understanding the implications of what you sign is not a good defense in most contract cases.

International Entertainment Conglomerates
Traditional publishers learned how to revise their business to make even more money. These publishers will be around for a long time, and writers will continue to sign with them.  But writers need to know what they are up against.  They are not signing up for a partnership with a production and distribution company like they had in the past."

"Mostly, these days, writers are signing with an international entertainment conglomerate that wants to exploit its assets for as long as possible."

"Books have moved from widgets to assets on the conglomerate’s financial statements.  The contracts—and the hardball that publishers now play—reflect this move.  When writers do business with an international entertainment conglomerate, they should be prepared to walk away from what initially looks like a good deal.  Because, in most cases, the writers will lose the right to exploit that property themselves for the life of the copyright."   See more at

Contract Terms Writers Need to Know
Your words are your creation, your identity, and your currency, and scam artists will try to steal them from you.  Trade publishers will hand you a contract and claim “it’s standard, everyone signs it.” Don’t believe anyone. Every contract is negotiable, especially when you know what to negotiate.  Here are some basics terms to help you understand contracts:

A license is a right to use only. You, the creator, will retain actual ownership of the copyrighted work.  99% of the time, a writer will be granting a license (not an assignment).
A license is similar to a lease.  Suppose you are a landlord, and you lease portions of your property to various tenants.  You still own the building.  Some apartments may be exclusive to one tenant, while other portions, such as the lobby, may be used by all tenants and are non-exclusive.

Licenses may be exclusive or non-exclusive, worldwide or geographically-restricted, short-term or perpetual, royalty-free or royalty-paying, limited to particular formats such as audiobooks, print, e-books or language; the permutations are endless.
But you will only know what you are granting if you read the contract.  Carefully!

If you grant an exclusive license to a publisher, then this publisher has the right to stop everyone else from using your work, even you.
Never grant an exclusive license without understanding exactly what you are doing.  Never grant an exclusive license to someone who cannot exploit your work for your benefit.
There are contracts out there from vanity and trade publishers in which the writer grants the company an exclusive license in every format for the life of the copyright plus seventy years after your death.  Even the author cannot use her or his own work. 
These aggressive clauses are buried deep in the document. Search them out. If you see one, do not agree.

When you transfer actual ownership of creation, that transfer is called an assignment. An assignment is forever (with few exceptions), so do not use the word casually.  While a license may be terminated if the licensee fails to pay royalties or exceeds its rights, an assignment is rarely reversible.
But there are times when you want a full assignment of rights.  For instance, you hire a freelancer to create your cover, website or custom illustrations, then that freelancer should assign all rights to the final work to you upon completion and full payment.
An indemnity is a promise to defend and reimburse someone from a legal claim and economic loss.  As a writer, you will sign many agreements in which you “warrant” your work is original and non-infringing and you agree to indemnify the other party from any claim to the contrary. This means you must hire the attorneys and pay everyone’s legal fees, damage awards and settlement costs. 

Read all representations, warranties, and indemnities in your contracts. Ask the other party to explain what the contract means in an email, and save that email - and also consult an attorney. If you cannot make the warranties with confidence, then revise them to reflect reality.



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