Mark Terry

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Contracts 101, Part 2 (World Rights)

January 12, 2011
Moving from the introductory materials, there is typically a line that goes like this:

NOW, THEREFORE, the parties agree as follows:

Which is then followed by pages of legalese that divvy up all the rights we talked about in yesterday's post and discusses how they can be used, how much you get reimbursed for them, and for how long. A first clause usually looks something like this:

1. Publication License: Author hereby grants to Publisher the sole and exclusive right to manufacture (including the right to photograph or otherwise reproduce), publish and sell the Work in such manner and form and under such imprint as the Publisher may deem advisable throughout the following territory: the WORLD for English language editions(s).

Now, that clause is often followed by a number of subclauses, which I will begin to address tomorrow. There are, however, a few things I want to point out about this clause. In this case, it's rather broad. It's not just allowing the publisher to publish the work in English, but it's not specifying any particular format--hardcover, mass market paperback, electronic, etc. Some writers and agents may feel this is rather too broad. Given how things are trending toward e-books, it may very well be. If anyone has a clause that more narrowly addresses print rights alone, I'd love to read it.

The next point is the word "WORLD." This is not always the case. Sometimes a book contract in the U.S. will refer to NORTH AMERICA, or NORTH AMERICA and the UNITED KINGDOM, etc. See the issue? The clause as stated above means this publisher can publish in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and anyplace else in the world that might be interested in a novel called BOOGER KNIGHTS written in English.

One reason publishers might just go for North American rights is because they don't have distribution in Canada, Australia, the UK or anywhere else. In which case, they're just holding on to rights they're not going to use or that they might sell to someone else in another country (we'll get to that kind of thing eventually). My guess is you're seeing more WORLD English language rights these days simply because Amazon has an international reach and so do many publishers, who want to siphon off as much money as they possibly can, even when they don't necessarily have plans to do any marketing or distribution (aggressively or otherwise) worldwide. That's the push-me/pull-you of book contract negotiations: generally speaking, both parties want control of as many rights as possible, even if they don't necessarily plan to exploit them, just in case some opportunity arises to bring in revenue.

Some authors think, "well, what do I care? I'm not going to market my book in Australia. Let the publisher control those rights and I'll take my share." Fair enough. A lot of the problem comes down to how you, as the intellectual property owner, are reimbursed for those rights. Let's say the publisher doesn't have a deal to sell a book in Australia, but they own the rights WORLDWIDE, and then when your book takes off, an Australian publisher comes to you or your agent and wants to do a special edition and promote the hell out of it and bring you to Australia and tour you. Fine, good, sounds great, you say. Then you look at your contract and realize that you don't actually have any say in the matter. Your publisher does. And they can say yes or no. If they say yes, they get a split of the money, depending on how your contract reads. If they say no for whatever reason--maybe your publisher just dislikes Aussies or they don't like the terms of the deal (this is publishing, weird, illogical shit happens all the time)--you have no say in the matter because you gave up all rights.

Tomorrow we'll continue with subclauses.


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