February 13, 2013

Could Your Employer Own Your Writing? | printable version

In case you missed it, there was a news item this week about a school district trying take copyrights from teachers AND students. It's pretty disturbing. How can an employer or a school take ownership of someone's copyrights? Easy. That person (or the parent of a student) would have to sign a contract granting ownership to the school district/employer. Parents could easily refuse to do so but, let's face it, most people don't read contracts and just blindly sign on the dotted line. For employees, it could be a problem...unless you approach it the right way.

Many years ago, when I was starting a new job, I noticed my employment contract stated the employer would own everything I created (yes, everything) during my employment there, regardless if it was related to my job or not. Being a writer, I recognized how bad that would be for me. The employer would end up owning not only my books but also my website. I convinced the employer to remove that clause from my employment contract.

If you signed an employment contract, but didn't read it, you may have inadvertently assigned ownership of your works to your employer, even if they are unrelated to your job. Can you imagine the consequences? Let's say J.K. Rowling was employed when she wrote the first Harry Potter book. Her employer could have sued her later, claiming ownership of the copyright because of a clause in her employment contract. They could have (falsely) accused her of working on the book on company time but, if they had a contract with a rights grab, they wouldn't even need to falsely accuse her of anything before they sued. Think that can't possibly happen? Think again! Many businesses (and individuals) will do anything when millions of dollars at at stake and there's no shortage of lawyers willing to file such lawsuits.

If you have signed an employment contract, you should read your copy (or request a copy) to ensure it doesn't contain such a clause. If it does, renegotiate. Explain to your boss that you dabble in writing on the side and that you want to own your own stories. Don't go into great detail, especially if you are (or plan to) make money with your writing! It's really none of his/her business what you do when you're not on the clock and he/she doesn't deserve to be reimbursed for your own after-hours creativity and efforts.

In the future, if you are provided with an employment contract, read it thoroughly and request they remove any clause that gives them ownership of anything you create on your own time. Again, be subtle. Say you're dabble in writing in your spare time and that you want to retain ownership of your work. If you let on that you're successful or that you plan to start publishing books, they won't be so agreeable. And, again, it's none of their business!

Even individuals employed in the industry shouldn't be giving all rights to their employers. There are many magazine editors who freelance on the side. Why should their employer get anything at all for their freelance work? Any employer who does demand such ludicrous and greedy terms should be avoided.

Angela Hoy is the co-owner of WritersWeekly.com and BookLocker.com. WritersWeekly.com is the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker.com is: "As close to perfection as you're going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I've ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can't go wrong here. Plus, they're selective and won't publish any manuscript just because it's accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors' books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know."

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