Protecting Your Electronic Author Rights

By Robert W. Lucas

U.S. Bill of RightsThere has been a lot change in the publishing industry in the past decade related to how electronic rights are exercised and compensated to authors. If you are going to sign a contract with a major publishing house, always be sure you understand the contractual agreement related to what you are giving away and what you will receive in exchange.
A key point to remember is that there is no such thing as a “standard contract” as some publishers might try to tell you. Everything is negotiable. Contracts offered by publishers are skewed in their favor so you must be wary to protect your rights and ensure that you just compensation for your intellectual property.
Groups like the Authors Guide and others that work to protect the rights of authors have been encouraging publishers to use a more fair approach in negotiating the compensation to authors related to electronic right. Many publishers have traditionally paid 10% or less for such rights. However, with the advent of the Internet and the ease of sharing information electronically, they can significantly reduce the cost of printing, producing, warehousing and distributing hard copy texts in favor of eBooks and derivative material offered in electronic format. This obviously increases their profit margin, so it is only logical and fair that they should share the additional revenue with their authors. Don’t assume that they will offer this when you sit down to read their contact. Always make sure you know exactly what rights you are signing over to them and if they do not have the resources or inclination to exercise rights such as multimedia, hold these back for yourself, if possible. You can always negotiate the exchange later if they decide to pursue such media.
A good rule of thumb is to engage the services of a contract lawyer with experience in the publishing/entertainment fields to intercede for you with the publisher’s lawyers. They speak the same language and can likely better interpret the publisher’s intent.