Sunday, March 17, 2013

More Contract Concerns for Authors

Last week, I wrote about the controversial contract that Random House was offering science fiction writers under its imprint Hydra. Well, it seems their contract has created such a stir that Random House has backed down, in part, and tweaked its contract to offer writers two different publishing models. One is a more traditional publishing option which includes an advance; the other is their profit-sharing model, with no advance.

If you read the contract, you’ll note that under the profit sharing model, the author and publisher split profits 50-50 based on net sales, after production costs have been deducted for both print and digital versions, and shipping costs deducted for the print version! Here’s what they also say:

“Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt acquire rights to every book for the term of copyright, subject to an “out-of-print” clause, which provides for the author to request reversion of his or her rights three years after publication if the title fails to sell 300 copies in the 12 months immediately preceding the request.”

I’m not a lawyer, so if I was signing such a copyright, I would need to know exactly what the publisher means by “term of copyright”. Is it something defined by the publisher, the author, or is Random House referring to the standard lifespan under copyright law, which in Canada and the U.S. is the author’s life plus 70 years.

To read the contract, go to and thanks to Katherine Wagner for sending me the link.

I’m also bringing up the copyright matter because Dean Wesley Smith referred to the Random House issue in his blog, where he focuses on reversion clauses, like the one quoted above. Smith says that it is now standard practice in American contracts for publishers to demand the right to the copyright for its entire life! Smith is so against it that he refuses to sign any contract containing this clause, for good reason.

It means that authors, their children, and even their grandchildren will not be entitled to get the rights back from publishers, who will be able to do anything they want with the book. They could let it go out of print, or sell it to future technologies for mega amounts of money, all without the author’s support. Scary, isn’t it? Smith has much more to say on the topic, which you can find at

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