From Dean Wesley Smith:
When and how do you get your book back?
. . . .
On a standard traditional publishing contract these days (in the States), you are signing over the rights in the contract for “the life of the copyright.” Now, under contract law in the States, a contract must have a firm end date, and this has been tested to be a firm end date. 70 years past the death of the author. Firm amount of time, so legal.
So the publisher is trying to get most rights to your book for your life, your kid’s life, and into the old age of your great-grand kids. Head-shaking, but true. (In other words, if you live for 50 more years, the contract could be good for 120 years. The same as if someone had signed a contract in 1893.)
Why do they need or want this? Because a license for a copyright is a form of property. And has value to the bottom line of corporation accounting ledgers.
. . . .
Now stop and think about that for a moment. The copyright license you signed over in your contract has value, so why should they just give it back to you?
Starting to see the problem? Pretend you bought a rental property. It is part of your net worth. Would you want to just give it back to the seller because they asked even though you paid money for the property and your contract says you don’t have to? Not likely.
. . . .
But wait, you say!!! (I can hear you.) Right there, in my contract, is a reversion clause that allows me, under certain conditions, to get my book transferred back to me so that I can get it back into print indie publishing or resell it to another publisher.
On the surface it seems that way. And that land for sale in Florida looks great as well in those pictures.
Under all contracts I have seen lately, that reversion clause is phrased in such a fashion that almost no circumstance would ever allow that property to leave the corporate balance sheet. At least for the life of the copyright.
In other words, you will never see your book again.
. . . .
Also, I want to be clear to all of you traditional-published old-timers out there who keep telling writers this isn’t a problem. This clause in contracts for new writers has changed in the last eight years or so. Kris and I got every book we sold to New York publishers (that we owned) reverted except for one. (Not the work-for-hire books. All the reverted books had contracts done before the changes started.)
These new reversion clauses are one of the major reasons I won’t sign a traditional publishing contract at the moment unless it is a media or work-for-hire, which I don’t expect to ever own.
. . . .
If you have clout, meaning your advance is mid-six figures and up, you can get a termination date on the contract. Many brand names give a publisher ten years which I feel is a fair and decent time. But us normal writers can’t get a termination date on a contract. Most contracts out of Europe have either termination dates or totals sales terminations. Very simple and good for the writer. But most traditional contracts in the States define the termination date as the life of the copyright.
Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith
As long-time visitors to The Passive Voice know, PG believes publishing contracts made for the life of the copyright are ridiculous and unfair.
PG will confirm Dean’s observation that out-of-print provisions in recent New York publishing contracts should more accurately be called never-out-of-print provisions. If you can’t understand the out-of-print clause in your publishing contract, you’ll probably have problems trying to exercise it.
While PG makes some money helping authors get out of lifetime plus 70 year contracts, he thinks the world would be a better place if publishing contracts, like all sorts of other business contracts, ended after a reasonable period of time.
One of the ways that some new small presses are competing for authors is to offer far better publishing contracts than New York offers. Some of these contracts are ending after three years, five years, seven years, ten years. When one of these new model contracts ends, if the author and publisher are both satisfied with the relationship, they can always extend it for several more years.
What a refreshing change! A business relationship continues because both parties are happy with it, not because one of the parties used its superior bargaining and market power to coerce the other into signing an unfair contract.
This is how contracts work in the reality-based business world. The fact that Big Publishing is so much different is yet more evidence of the inbred parochialism that makes that business a sitting duck for Amazon and others.