Warning to authors: unfair contracts
This was first published in the Australian Society of Authors enewsletter. If you have any questions or concerns about your contract, please contact the ASA for assistance.
The ASA is concerned about the increasing number of authors being presented with book publishing contracts which require the author to assign copyright to the publisher. Of particular concern are contracts which:
Seek to have any rights assigned (i.e. transferral of copyright ownership), rather than requiring the author to grant an exclusive licence (i.e. permission for one party to publish the work for a period of time as per contractual terms), according to regular practice
Do not commit the publisher to actually publish the work in the formats described, or exercise assigned rights in any way
Do not offer the author a means through which publishing rights may be reverted to the author on termination of the contract
Include a clause for automatic renewal of the publishing licence once the initial Term concludes
Attempt to control how an author might seek remedy for any breach of contract by the publisher
Requires the author to accept an open-ended indemnity, including full financial compensation to the publisher
Offers lower than industry-standard royalties to authors, usually on ‘net receipts’ rather than RRP.
Contracts of this nature attempt to exploit authors by taking full control of their intellectual property, by subterfuge and/or without offering commensurate financial compensation. While they may ask for no financial contribution to publishing costs, the royalties offered are so low that the author will have limited potential for earnings on any title, even if sales are high. Further, by requiring the author to assign full rights to the publisher, the author has a limited chance of recovering their rights and securing publication under fairer terms and conditions.
The ASA advises that authors contact the ASA office for advice prior to signing the contract, in an instance where a contract requests assignment of copyright.