Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rights Reversals

Can you believe what some may describe as the arrogance of some publishers to use digitisation as an excuse to land grab copyright?

We wrote about Simon and Schuster’s latest attempt to ‘muscle’ their creative talent into new contracts, which some will say, would give them copyright until it becomes public domain. Then one day later, we read in the Bookseller that Random House Group is pursuing a similar approach.

The Societies and guilds that represent authors must now raise their members’ and also the public’s awareness to the issues and potential grab that is being attempted. It is important that the reasons why it should be rejected are spelt out and not merely negotiated behind closed doors.

It is not good enough for the publishers to claim the world has changed and that contracts must reflect this. No one would dispute that contracts need to be revisited, but the changes some propose are at best questionable and worst unjustified. Once contracts have been changed it is unlikely that they will be reversed. Some may say that publishers are protecting their digital investment, others that they are acting selfishly and building their assets with little commitment to sharing risk or reward.

The problem is not digitisation but the urban myths and lack of full understanding around it. We are not describing a mature market, but one that despite much hype has still to take off. Where is the public debate? Where is the dialogue? Where are the facts and the economic cases? Are the agents fully educated to the bigger picture, or are they like many struggling to keep abreast of a rapidly changing environment?
Hollywood writers took to the streets to fight their case, but can we expect authors and their agents stand firm against the hand that feeds them?

If the PA, APA and guilds and societies do not educate and open the up the debate, we potentially face stand offs, bad press and most importantly, the reversal of contracts, lead by not the majority but a few and impacting the total industry as we know it today.

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