Recently, I got e-mail from another career writer, talking about a rights grab from a traditional publisher. I saw the document in question; it’s egregious. I do not have permission to talk about this particular document nor would I, since it’s proprietary, but it’s the kind of document I’ve seen at least six times in the last two years.
These documents are addendums to publishing contracts. Since the rise of e-books, publishers have issued the addendums frequently and often en masse.
Before I go further, let me remind you that I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV (or in internet videos, for that matter). I have opinions about legal matters as they pertain to publishing, based on thirty-some years in the business on almost all sides of the business, but I am not an authority on this topic nor does anything in this blog substitute for legal advice.
Once signed, addendums to contracts become part of the contract. All well-written addendums have language that explains the addendum’s relationship to the contract. For example, the addendum might say something like “nothing in this addendum will supersede the terms previously granted in the contract.”
Or, as I’m seeing in all these publishing addendums, they’ll have clauses that say things like “if there is a conflict between a term that is specifically defined in this addendum and a definition of the same term is in the contract, then the definition specified in the addendum governs.”
In other words, the addendum will not only become part of the contract; it will make parts of the contract null and void.
Some addendums I’m seeing are pretty straightforward. They grant e-rights to contracts so old that ebooks did not exist when the contract was signed. Those addendums generally add the ebook information, how the royalties will be calculated, how ebooks are defined—basically the same stuff that would be in a contract if it were signed in 2013 instead of 1983. I know a lot of you traditionally published career writers have signed addendums like these—and many of you have refused, keeping the e-rights for yourself.
That’s all well and good, and is typical business.
But the addendums I’m writing about today are rights grabs.