Fair Contracts For Authors: Don’t Let Go Of Your Copyright

Image - iStockphoto: Ociacia
Image – iStockphoto: Ociacia

Novelists Inc. Plans Authors Guild Session

There’s news this week from the roughly 900-member Novelists Inc. (NINC) organization that the Authors Guild will present a special session on rights reversion at NINC’s conference, 30th September to 4th October.

Executive director Mary Rasenberger and staffer Ryan Fox will go to St. Pete Beach for talks with NINC members, many of whom are especially concerned about this area of author contract reform.

Mary Rasenberger
Mary Rasenberger

As I covered here at Thought Catalog in Publishing’s Bad Infiniti: Authors Guild Calls For Time-Limited Contracts, the Guild’s Fair Contract Initiative has singled out rights reversion clauses in standard industry contracts as being particularly burdensome to authors. From its white paper on the issue:

Publishers have cleverly managed to craft “out of print” clauses that make it almost impossible for authors to recapture their rights. Classic contract language states that a book is not out of print as long as it is “available for sale in any edition.” So publishers “release” the book in a print-on-demand or electronic edition that’s always available, even if few copies are actually sold. By relying on language originally intended to provide a real reversionary right, a publisher can now hold onto a book forever even if it’s not actually doing anything with it. That is not how “out of print” was supposed to work.

The author-members of NINC are multi-published, as a criterion of membership. Some members have more than 100 titles to their names. It’s said that the median in the group is some 25 books per writer. And yet many of them — eager to get their rights reverted to them so they can self-publish their backlists — are being blocked, their publishers declining to revert the rights to these commercially moribund titles.

Conference organizers tell me that two NINC members report 70 and 80 titles, respectively, being held by one of the largest publishers in the country, with no apparent plan to revert the rights to the authors.

The books in question are “either tossed into ebook or sold to obscure countries and thus termed still in print,” according to one NINC author. I’m withholding the name of the writer speaking to me since her own publisher might not welcome the frankness of her comments.

“Not many people want to think about ‘those books,'” she says in a note to me, “but those books, those draconian contracts, could be the wedge that opens up everything else.”

We had a spirited #FutureChat discussion last week on the problem of rights that don’t revert to the author. You can read the chat’s recap of that discussion at The FutureBook.

One of the interesting things you’ll find there is the popular author J.A. Konrath not only noting that he got his own backlist back (he recommends using an attorney), but also reiterating some of his earlier complaints about the Guild. Konrath is not alone, particularly in his criticism of the Guild for joining in Authors United’s complaints about Amazon. You can read a very strong commentary from Konrath on the Guild here.

And while Konrath, as always, articulates his views well, it’s interesting that he says that the Guild is “only whining” in its Fair Contract Initiative.

[pullquote]”A publisher can now hold onto a book forever even if it’s not actually doing anything with it. That is not how “out of print” was supposed to work.”
Authors Guild, Fair Contract Initiative[/pullquote]

Meeting with so large a standing, well-organized authors collective as NINC and conducting special programming in rights reversion issues to this well-targeted group looks like more than whining. The Guild logically can expect new membership and a widening base of support in calling for contract reform. Any backing for its Contract Initiative from writer-members of a group of NINC’s size — and with many long-accomplished members now at what I call “backlist age” — may mean an expansion of backing, helpful to the Guild in presenting its grievances to publishers.

I am programming a part of NINC’s conference this year, not the part that the Guild will appear in but a “First Word” program focused on international issues for authors. I’m glad I’ll be in place for the rest of the conference so that I’ll be able to see Rasenberger and Fox meet with the authors.

I’ll have live coverage from their workshop at the hashtag #NINC15.  News of the session’s timing will be available in coming weeks.

Read More

There’s more: Read the full interview at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son

Writing on the Ether:  Fair Contracts For Authors: Don’t Let Go Of Your Copyright

Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.ThoughtCatalog.com




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