Whether you’ve received your tenth publishing contract or you are getting closer to obtaining your first one, publishing contracts can seem confusing and overwhelming.
One of the initial clauses found in these contracts is the “Grant of Publisher Rights.” It’s an important clause and it determines what you’re licensing to the publisher and what you are legally keeping for yourself. The clause includes two types of rights: (1) publication rights and (2) subsidiary rights. Publishing contracts are written to protect the publisher, and publishers always seek the broadest possible grant of rights. But as with all contracts, these clauses are negotiable. Some important things to know:
The author owns the copyright. In a grant of rights clause, the author is licensing, not selling the copyright. The author will eventually get their rights back in the reversion of rights clause of the contract (a discussion for a future blog post).
So how can an author negotiate the grant of rights clause? Here are some concrete examples.
Limit publisher’s grant of rights to legitimate ones
Be professional. Tell the publisher that you are willing to license any rights they legitimately need, but that you would like to retain the rights to the work that they don’t need and have no plans to use. Ask yourself if the publisher is just including everything in the contract, even rights that they have no intention of exploiting?
Example: foreign language rights. Does the publisher produce foreign language books or are they just collecting rights?
If the answer is no, then politely ask the publisher why it needs that right and how it intends to exploit it. If they do not intend to exploit the right, then you can ask to have it stricken. You can also suggest that you will negotiate in good faith in the future if the publisher later decides it needs the right.
What about ebooks and audio books?
In today’s publishing world, you probably won’t be able to retain ebook rights. Many publishers legitimately need them. That being said, if you write a romance novel, chances are the publisher may not need mixed media rights such as ebooks with pictures or sound (these does not include audio books). And if they do not translate ebooks into foreign languages, then this may be a right you’d like to retain.
As for audio book rights, if your publisher develops them then you can license this right to them. However, just like foreign language rights and media rights, if a publisher doesn’t develop audio books, then you may want to negotiate to keep these rights. Who knows? You may want to produce your own audio books.
Other subsidiary rights
These can include movie and screen play rights, abridgements, anthologies, special editions, book clubs and more. Each of these can be considered separately. Is your publisher known for developing movies or screenplays? And remember, if your novel hits it big and your publisher approaches you with a movie deal, then you can always negotiate in the future!
To sum it all up, if your publisher is seeking a very broad grant of rights that they don’t legitimately need, then consider asking to have them separated out. Authors can license the rights to someone else or keep them until a future time when they can develop them themselves. In a perfect world, the author and publisher will work together to have a fair grant of rights clause for today’s constantly changing marketplace.
Please note, this blog post is not legal advice. If you are unsure of what you’re signing, don’t sign it and seek legal advice. Good luck!
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