In The News: Author Sues Publisher For Portraying eBook Licenses As ‘Sales’ To Pay Out Fewer Royalties

In The News – Articles Of Interest For Authors

Say it isn’t so! A publisher using tactics to get more money out of authors? Color me shocked. Ok, snarky time is over. But this is an interesting read that will get you re-reading any publishing contract you sign. Techdirt has the full scoop.

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Author Sues Publisher For Portraying eBook Licenses As ‘Sales’ To Pay Out Fewer Royalties

from the whatever’s-the-most-profitable-terminology… dept

Justice is blind so she can't see that Benjamin you put in her scales

Justice is blind so she can’t see that Benjamin you put in her scales

If you’re a consumer, that piece of digital wordsmithery you purchased probably isn’t worth the paper it isn’t printed on. Like most digital media available for “purchase,” ebooks are often “sold” as licenses that allow the publisher to control use of the product indefinitely, whether through DRM or by simply attaching EULAs no one will ever read to every download.

This works out great for publishers, who can make irrational, unilateral decisions to pull their catalogs from platforms as a “bargaining tool,” leaving purchasers without access to their purchased goods. But publishers (including music publishers like UMG) only use the term “license” when it’s most advantageous for them. When it comes to paying authors, the terminology suddenly changes. Now it’s a “sale,” with all the disadvantages for authors that entails.

“Sales” is a historical term, meant to reference physical sales and the additional costs (printing, packaging, shipping) built into the process. Licenses — and the ebooks attached to them — have none of these costs, hence the higher payout rate. But, according to a recently-filed lawsuit, Simon and Schuster is treating ebooks like physical sales in order to pay authors lower royalties.

Lloyd Jassin of CopyLaw points out why this is worth litigating:

The distinction is significant, because the royalty rate for sales is much lower than the rate for the license of rights. If categorized as a license the author receives 50% of net receipts, rather than 25% of net typically paid to authors for the “sale” of an eBook.

Jassin also points out that after Eminem’s win over UMG on the sale/license issue (dealing with digital album/track sales), most publishers rewrote their contracts to make the screwing explicit.

In the wake of the Eminem decision, most publishers amended their contracts, so the sale or license of an “eBook” is unambiguously treated as a sale. The lawsuit, therefore, challenges the publisher’s interpretation of their legacy or backlist contracts.   

Read the full post on Techdirt

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