“We take all rights to your work,” warn the guidelines of a popular parenting blog. “Don’t submit to us if you are not comfortable with this.”
Handing over all rights, including copyright, of your work to another entity goes against the grain for many writers. Others, however, don’t bat an eyelid. You can always write more, right? So, in which situations does it make sense?
All Rights is a big deal, and Perpetual Exclusive Rights even more so. From the publishers’ point of view, even though they may cost big bucks, there are advantages to buying all rights. Overhead costs more when keeping track of individual author agreements containing differing clauses. (Which author was it who wanted separate payment for electronic sales? How much did we pay this author for reprints?) It can become a hassle to negotiate individual rights for each new format, or seek permission each time a new medium becomes popular in the market. (We can use his essay on the CD and website, but what about the new eBook version of the anthology?) So, it is easier to simply apply a blanket “all rights” clause in the contract. Online publications believe posting non-original content to blogs hurts their SEO ratings. Apparently pages are penalised by Google’s search rankings for duplicate content. It may also prejudice public perception. If readers see a post on a website that they’ve already read elsewhere, it could look as though it has been plagiarised.
“Major fiction publishers,” says Jo Crum, Assistant Chief Executive at The Society Of Authors, “may want a grant of licence for all rights in perpetuity. This is fine, providing they are paying a good advance upfront, you are confident that they have the ability to sell the rights on, and there are good termination clauses dealing with breaches, liquidation, and a good definition of ‘out of print’.
“For academic and nonfiction publishing contracts, the terms are not as favourable, with royalties being based on receipts rather than retail price. If the work is part of a publisher-originated series, they may want assignment of copyright.”
Before you sign away all rights to your blood-sweat-and-tears masterpiece, consider the following questions:
1. Do you need the money? If you’re being offered a twenty dollar flat fee in return for all rights to your fantasy trilogy or a regular column, then yep, you’re right, it <i>is</i> a joke! Laugh and move on.
2. Is there potential for reprinting the work? If so, how many times would you be able to sell reprint rights? How would this compare to the one-time remuneration you’re being offered for all rights?
3. Would you want to offer the work on your own blog as a newsletter feature, online course exercise, tutorial take-away, or a one-time e-book download? Does it have the effectiveness to serve as a “hook” to drive traffic to your website and raise your online presence? In the long run, this could prove more valuable than a lump sum payment.
4. Would you want to use the work in a future compilation? If so, are you willing to buy back your rights?
5. Would you want to make a serialisation or extension of the work, re-using the same characters or setting, or continuing where it has left off? You might not be able to if it is copyrighted to someone else.
6. Are you happy and comfortable with the idea of the new owner modifying, reselling or exploiting your work as he/she sees fit, in places you may find undesirable to appear in or be associated with, without any obligation to inform you in advance or seek your consent, and without crediting you with the effort? Are you happy with them editing your work and then still putting your name on it?
7. Are you satisfied this venue is so reputable that publication will “make” your name? Sometimes fame and publicity can be worth more than extra pounds in the bank account when marketing future works.
8. Do you have the time, energy, inclination and focus to find alternative venues to sell other rights to? Finding markets can eat into time you could have spent writing and creating more content.
“I would always advise an author to retain film/television/stage/animation rights because publishers are not very good at selling these,” says Crum. “Ideally any unexploited foreign rights would revert to the author if left unexploited after a period of time. This is quite rare to negotiate. Authors could hop around this with shorter licences, but publishers will expect perpetuity.”
You are the best advocate for your business. Protect it without smothering it. All rights may be all right; and then again, they may no
Devyani Borade is a professional writer and cartoonist, who has been published in magazines all over the world. She has much to say about life, laughter and literature; so mosey on over to her website Verbolatry at http://devyaniborade.blogspot.com where you’re sure to find a story or two that’ll interest you. And while there, don’t forget to sign up for her hilarious cartoon newsletter featuring the adventures of the charming Debora and her incorrigible Pen!
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