Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Authors Guild Weighs In

Last Sunday, we talked about Random House claiming e-book rights via contracts signed before e-books came into existence - and heirs fighting that stance. Today, a week later, we’re talking about the Authors Guild post in response to Random House’s move.
A fundamental principle of book contracts is that the grant of rights is limited. Publishers acquire only the rights that they bargain for; authors retain rights they have not expressly granted to publishers. E-book rights, under older book contracts, were retained by the authors.
The post goes on to say:
A federal court in 2001 examined this precise matter in Random House v. Rosetta Books. Judge Stein of the Southern District of New York was unequivocal in his 10-page decision: authors did not grant publishers the e-book rights in the old book contracts at issue.
The post notes that times are hard in the publishing industry, but adds:
It's regrettable and unhelpful that Random House has chosen to try to intimidate authors and agents over these old book contracts. With such a weak legal hand, it would be well advised to stick to its strength -- the advantages that its marketing muscle can provide owners of e-book rights. It should also start offering a fair royalty for those rights.
Click over to read the full post on the Authors Guild site.
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  1. "It should also start offering a fair royalty for those rights."

    Amen. I'm going to read the whole article, too. Thanks for keeping me up to date on this issue, it's and important one the way the industry is heading.

    Marvin D Wilson

  2. Thanks for the update, Helen. I was surprised that Random House would have taken this course.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. It's good we have organizations like the Authors Guild and the professional writers organizations. Without them, we'd be in an even worse muddle. Thanks for posting this.

  4. Hooray for the Authors Guild!

  5. I agree with the cheers for Authors Guild.

  6. Good for the guild. That's the way it should be. Glad they came out on the issue and to clarify why the Judge Stein ruled the way he did. This way authors of older contracts know where they stand, if their publisher tries the same.

    Knowledge is power.

  7. You're so good at keeping us up to date with these things - thanks!!

  8. Publishers usually try to grab all rights to books but are only entitled to those listed in the contract. In 1999 an ebook publisher tried to take all rights to a novel I foolishily placed with them but I was thankfully able to break the contract within six months. Why would an ebook company want to retain film, audio and print rights that they never intended to use?

  9. Thank you for this link, Helen. If I was negotiating a contract myself, I never would have asked for 50% royalties on e-book sales.

    Now that I know 15% is based on 50/50 split of net profits for a hardcover, I know why 50% is fair for e-book rights.

    I'm starting to think that the industry, in an admirable effort to remain viable in a new landscape, is losing the balance between profit and art.

    Profit is vital, because without it, artists would have to make a living in call centers and strip malls.

    But I'm not writing a novel to get rich, or to make a publisher rich. I live for the art.

  10. You know why, Jean. They're hoping the e-book becomes widely popular, then they have all the rights to a bestseller. In the meantime, you, the author, are stuck.

  11. Thanks for the update on this issue, Helen. Hopefully as the Guild keeps the pressure on publishers the contracts will become clearer in the future and the publishers will stop trying to rewrite the old contracts to suit them.


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