Home » Copyright/Intellectual Property, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Legal Stuff » Patreon, Copyright, and Personal Choice

Patreon, Copyright, and Personal Choice

10 May 2019

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Patreon’s Terms of Use has a possible rights grab buried in them. This is the relevant passage:

By posting content to Patreon you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, reproduce, distribute, perform, publicly display or prepare derivative works of your content. The purpose of this license is to allow us to operate Patreon, promote Patreon and promote your content on Patreon. We are not trying to steal your content or use it in an exploitative way.

Now realize that contracts need to be read in their entirety, and this is just one paragraph. But the first sentence of this paragraph gave me pause when I first read it years ago, and clearly it upset PG as well.

That sentence at the end of the paragraph? Technically, it’s not theft if you sign away the copyright. So that “steal” thing is kind of a misdirection.

And here’s another point: Even though the FAQ and Patreon’s home page contradict the rights grab, the grab is in the Terms of Use. The reassurances aren’t.

Since I’ve worked in publishing for decades, I learned the difference between language in a contract—which the Terms of Use is, whether we like it or not—and reassurances from the company. Language in a contract can be enforced relatively easily. Reassurances are usually just that: a nice pat on the head accompanied by a don’t worry your pretty little head, sweetie.

. . . .

I saw that possible rights grab the day I logged onto Patreon and started my account. And, at that moment, decided not to ever filter any fiction through Patreon’s site.

I have very different attitudes about my fiction and my nonfiction. I write nonfiction for other people. I write fiction for myself. I’m a control freak about my fiction. I’m quite loose with my nonfiction.

And those distinctions are on purpose.

To put it another way, I look at the difference this way: I’m going to the Licensing Expo in June and while there, I will be acting as a licensor for my fiction IP. I’m not even going to mention the nonfiction IP.

I see lots of possibilities for fiction. I know there are a lot of ways I can exploit the nonfiction as well, but I’m not as interested. I only have so much time in the day, and I’ll spend it on fiction.

The upshot is that I’m extremely protective of my fiction. In no way do I want to get in a pissing contest with an internet company that deals with billions of dollars in revenue when it claims that it owns my IP.

. . . .

So when I saw that clause in the Patreon Terms of Use, I cast about for mitigating factors. There are several. The final sentence of the paragraph for one. The FAQ for another. Unfortunately, those things don’t clarify the possible rights grab. Instead, they muddy the waters. There’s enough confusion to make a lawsuit possible, which brought up the nightmare I listed above.

I felt disappointed that I couldn’t use Patreon as another revenue stream for my fiction. But I wasn’t so disappointed that I would throw caution to the wind and jump onto the platform for a few extra bucks.

I hesitated on the nonfiction as well, but ultimately decided that I could take a risk with the nonfiction that I would never take with the fiction. I even put up exclusive nonfiction content on Patreon, but it’s similar to what I put on my website, and it’s never something that I would want extra copyright protection on, like some kind of investigative reporting or a piece of creative nonfiction.

I’m very protective of my IP, but I’m fluid in the ways I exploit it. Making a judgement about which service to use and which one to abandon has become old hat for me.

I do that when I see contracts. I’ve walked away from short story contracts, foreign contracts, traditional publishing contracts, and movie deals. I’ve walked away from deals that would have paid me hundreds of thousands of dollars but would have taken my IP for that price. I have yet to find that price that “they” swear we all have—you know: where you will sell out your principles for a fortune. Offer me tens of millions for total ownership of my fiction IP and I will say no every single time.

Nonfiction, though…I’ll think about it. Maybe this comes from the fact that I got my nonfiction education in radio as a volunteer. In other words, I wrote nonfiction for free (or rather, as I saw it, in return for a master class in writing under fire). When I became proficient, I got paid (a tiny salary, but still). So there was money, but it was never the focus of the nonfiction.

. . . .

1. Know What You’re Signing. Make sure you understand the legalese. Make sure you know what each clause means and/or how a court might interpret those clauses in relation to all other clauses.

As PG mentioned in his long post, “Under general principles governing the interpretation of contracts, if there is a conflict between a specific and a general provision, the specific provision will govern.” He uses the Patreon Terms of Use as an example. The first sentence in the copyright grab is very specific. The second, slightly reassuring sentence, is very general.

In other words, the copyright grab has a good chance of holding up in a court challenge. Right now, we’re discussing a made-up court challenge that might never happen. So…

. . . .

6. Don’t Ever Delude Yourself About The Consequences. Ever. Don’t let the phrase, “Yeah, I know it’s bad, but they’ll never do that to me” out of your mouth. If something is in a contract, or part of a deal, then there’s a very real chance that that something will get activated. Someone—maybe not the person you’re negotiating with—will do that horrible thing allowed by the contract.

Be prepared for that. If you can live with that bad thing, then sign the deal. If you can’t, don’t sign.

The choice really is that binary.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

As usual, Kris has created an insightful post about a good way of thinking through a common business problem.

The most common response PG has received when he points out an egregious contract provision to the other side of a potential deal (the ones who wrote the contract) is something like, “We would never do that.”

PG’s reply is usually some version of, “That’s wonderful. I’m sure my client will be happy to hear that you won’t mind taking that provision out of the  contract.”

When a large organization is on the other side of a negotiation, about 99% of the time, the next statement is some version of, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that. This is our standard contract that everyone signs.” Sometimes it’s followed by a reference to computer accounting systems or, occasionally, an unnamed lawyer or department full of lawyers (“our lawyers”).

In ancient times, when contracts were engraved on brass or copper plates, changing a “standard contract” was certainly a laborious and time-consuming task. In the 21st century, every contract exists as an electronic document somewhere. If it’s electronic, it’s easy to change. On occasion, PG has offered to prepare a clean version of the contract without the nasty bits to help lessen the other side’s onerous workload.

In some cases, the counterparty with whom PG is negotiating honestly believes the contract can’t be changed. Someone higher in the organization has said so.

What the other side is really saying is, “We won’t change the contract for your client.”

For large publishers, without going into details, PG will assure one and all that the publishing contracts for best-selling authors tend to differ quite a lot from those publishers’ “standard contracts” which “can not be changed”.

PG has sometimes wondered if, when one acquiring editor at a publisher is saying, “I’m sorry, we can’t change our contract”, another editor is saying, “What language would you suggest?”

When someone is reviewing a contract, including a contract that will govern rights to a book or story they have written, it can be a useful exercise to ask, “What is the worst thing that could happen to my story or me if every single provision in this contract were strictly enforced according to the literal meaning of the words?”

Another useful exercise is to ask, “If people I didn’t like were to acquire this company, would I upset if they looked at the contract and did (or didn’t do) everything the contract permitted?”

One of the particular problems with traditional publishing contracts is atypical of business contracts in the non-publishing world.

Most business contracts last for a specific period of time – one year, three years, maybe even ten years. Such agreements can be extended or renewed if both sides agree. If someone enters into a bad contract, in the worst case, there is an end in sight for the obligations and restrictions contained in the agreement.

This is not the case for an author entering into what passes for a standard publishing agreement, at least in the US. As PG has noted many times before, language such as “the full term of the author’s copyright” can be expected to appear somewhere. In the US and many other countries, this means that contract is a lifetime contract for the author. The contract has a good potential for continuing for the lifetimes of the offspring of authors in their middle years as well.

If PG were king for a day, he would decree that all traditional publishing contracts would last for no more three years (maybe five if he was feeling charitable toward publishers that day).

At the end of the initial term, a publishing contract could be renewed for an additional three year period if, at that time, both the author and the publisher agreed that it would be renewed. If the contract was not renewed, the author would regain all rights to the book(s) covered by the contract.

If Amazon continues to compete with traditional publishers for the books of entrepreneurial authors and if publishers decided to respond by aggressively competing with Amazon, publishers might match Amazon’s KDP contract terms – either the author or Amazon can terminate the agreement at any time and remove the author’s books from Amazon’s store.

 

Copyright/Intellectual Property, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Legal Stuff

8 Comments to “Patreon, Copyright, and Personal Choice”

  1. Man, PG… This really gives me pause. I just created my Patreon account and it’s already bringing in $42/creation. Not a whole lot, but it’s growing quickly. I wish I’d been able to sit down with you in Vegas last October to talk about this. Has your wife looked into patron-type income generators? Does she or anyone else know of another way to reward people who support at different monetary levels?

  2. Terrence OBrien

    Offer me tens of millions for total ownership of my fiction IP and I will say no every single time.

    How about tens of billions?

  3. “What is the worst thing that could happen to my story or me if every single provision in this contract were strictly enforced according to the literal meaning of the words?”

    Or as Charlie Stross put it, “Contract law is essentially a defensive scorched-earth battleground where the constant question is, ‘if my business partner was possessed by a brain-eating monster from beyond space-time tomorrow, what is the worst thing they could do to me?'”

    • Sounds about right, J.

    • Felix J. Torres

      The worst for a fiction writer would have to be what happened to L.J. Smith with VAMPIRE DIARIES that has so far yielded three TV series for the CW totalling 14 seasons (and counting) over ten years that left her writing VAMPIRE DIARIES “fanfic” on Kindle Worlds (now ended).

      https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/fandom/vampire-diaries-lj-smith-kindle-fanfiction/

      Ouch, ouch, ouch.

      (The latest derivative of a derivative, LEGACIES, is actually a fantasy romp of a school for supernatural kids that focuses mostly on 15 year old drama queens. I just binged it with my sister over the weekend and the thing is about 40% comedy 40% teen angst and 20% supernatural “drama”. Guilty pleasure territory. Not sure how long they can keep it up but the first season worked.)

  4. One of the sites I get DAZ props and outfits has this on each page:

    USAGE RESTRICTIONS

    My items are not to be used on the Second Life website. They have recently changed their TOS and are legally able to take/steal anything uploaded and resell/redistribute the items.

    So you have to keep watch because the okay rights of today may not be there tomorrow …

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.