From The Book Designer:
Writers see the warnings all the time. Watch out for rights grabs, those contracts that transfer all rights to the writer’s work to some less-than-reputable publisher or self-publishing company. Without realizing it, the writer has given away the right to publish his or her book in print, ebook, audio, app, and all future formats, in all languages, worldwide, for the life of the copyright. Heartbreaking.
. . . .
The answer, of course, is read the contract before your hit Submit.
Daunting? Not if you know where to look. Instead of starting at the beginning of the contract, go straight to any paragraph called Grant of Rights, License, Permission, or Permitted Uses, and look for these Danger Words: Assignment and Exclusive.
If you see these Danger Words, you may not need to read any further.
Legally speaking, a publishing contract is a license, meaning permission to use. The writer continues to own the copyright. In contrast, an assignment transfers complete ownership. It is rarely appropriate in publishing or self-publishing, except for a freelance or ghostwriting project if you understand upfront you are transferring all your rights and ownership in the work.
. . . .
Section 3. Assignment. Author does hereby irrevocably assign to Company and its successors all right, title, and interest throughout the world, in and to the Approved Entries, including without limitation, any copyrights and other proprietary rights in and to the Approved Entries in any media now known or hereinafter developed, and in and to all income, royalties,damages, claims and payments now or hereafter due or payable with respect thereto, and in and to all causes of action, either in law or in equity for past, present, or future infringement of such rights.
. . . .
An exclusive license can be as bad as an assignment.
As I said, a license is permission to use only; you, the creator, retain ownership of the copyrighted work.
Licenses may be worldwide or geographically restricted, short-term or perpetual, royalty-free or royalty-paying, limited to particular media such as audio books, print, e-books, or to a particular language, and most importantly, exclusive or nonexclusive.
If you grant a non-exclusive license, then you may grant the same rights to others at the same time. If you grant an exclusive license, you are agreeing not to transfer similar rights to anyone else.
A license is similar to a lease. Imagine you are a landlord of a shopping center, and you lease shops to various tenants. Their rent is based on how much they sell. Each shop lease is like an exclusive license granted to only one user. Other licenses, such as the right to use the parking lot, are non-exclusive.
Link to the rest at The Book Designer and thanks to James for the tip.
The OP does a good job of describing typical pitfalls.
PG will reiterate Joel’s advice to read the entire contract before accepting it. Yes, it’s no fun and will take some time, but, if it’s a contract for the life of the copyright and you agree to it, you’ll be living with that contract for the rest of your life.
You don’t need to read the entire contract in order to reject it, however. You should read it before you agree to it because the whole contract needs to be right or you should reject it. In an online situation where there is no negotiation of the contract terms, you’re looking for reasons to reject the contract, not accept it. If you find a reason to reject the contract, you’re done with your reading.
Online contracts are usually easy to search if you’re reading them in a browser. You might want to search for words like exclusive, copyright, irrevocable, grant, assign, royalty-free and license. You’ll need to read what you discover to see the context of those words. If you find something you don’t like, post an online warning to your fellow writers and go back to working on your book. You don’t need to read the rest of the contract.
If this technique doesn’t raise any red flags (it’s definitely not a fool-proof solution), you’re stuck reading everything.