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Know Your Rights
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
I recently got an email that sent a chill through me. It was a newsletter from a traditional publishing organization. This organization is geared toward publishers and editors, not toward writers.
The newsletter was essentially an ad for an upcoming seminar that will teach publishers to understand intellectual property and expand their rights business.
Why did this send a chill through me? Because the one thing that has protected writers who signed bad contracts is the fact that their traditional publishers have no idea how to exploit the rights they licensed.
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[I]n short, most publishers ask for more than they have ever used in the past. Publishers have been very short sighted in how they published books.
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Ten years ago, it was relatively easy to get the rights reverted on a book like that. Essentially both parties agreed that the terms of the contract had been met, that the parties no longer had need of the relationship, and so they severed their business relationship.
It wasn’t easy-peasy, but it wasn’t hard either. It usually took a letter or two.
By 2005, however, most agents refused to write that letter which severed the contract. The reason was simple from the agent’s perspective. Many, many, many agents used a combination of their agency agreement and a clause in the writer’s book contract to define their relationship with the writer, and determine who controlled the marketing and finances of that book.
It wasn’t in the agent’s best interest to cancel the contract. In fact, the longer the contract existed, the better it was for the agent.
Writers with agents would have to write those letters themselves—and then, publishers would often contact the agent to find out why the agent was “letting” the writer do this.
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In the last year or so, I’ve been hearing from writers who say it’s almost impossible to get their rights reverted. The publishers want to hold onto those rights as long as possible.
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