In this episode
Daniel Steven is an intellectual property rights attorney. He represents all aspects of authors and people in media and intellectual property. Author of four books, Dan previously worked as a book editor and publisher.
Listen to this podcast as Dan takes us through the complex (but crucial) world of publishing law, and how authors and other creatives can protect themselves and their work.
Season 1 Episode 9: Author and Intellectual Property Rights Attorney Daniel Steven on Publishing Law
Why is it important that authors have at least a basic grasp of intellectual property rights?
Authors should know their rights so they’re not taken advantage of by publishers and by distributors, and all of the other entities in the chain. There is a dearth of knowledge among writers about publishing agreements, publishing and copyright law, etc., and people should spend the time educating themselves before jumping into publishing.
What are some of the common things you see in your practice?
One of the most frustrating things is today’s growing number of small presses and independent publishers. Many of them have no idea how to structure a publishing agreement. They’re cobbled together by one company from another company’s publishing agreement, or something they saw on the Internet, without understanding the meaning of the terms, and then inevitably they get into trouble, and finally they consult a lawyer after it’s too late.
What should aspiring authors or others wanting to get into publishing do to protect themselves?
We understand it’s tough to budget for attorney’s fees, and to have a lawyer write or vet your contract. It’s much easier just to copy somebody else’s and save the money. But we also understand the damage that can occur. That’s why we encourage people to get a publishing agreement written and examined by a publishing agreement, and the same applies to authors. They should not blindly sign a publishing agreement or a ghostwriting agreement, or any legal document having to do with the publishing industry, without knowing what they’re doing.
What are some common errors authors make concerning publishing law?
An author signs an option clause without understanding its significance. They later find out they must offer their next book to that very same publisher with the same terms as the first book. The problem is that they’re already dissatisfied with the publisher because they didn’t work for them or market their book. They can’t do anything about it.
Another common error is where an author doesn’t understand the significance of the indemnity clause that is in a standard publishing agreement. They decide to use something in their book without getting the permission from the copyright holder because they think it’s fair use when it isn’t. Later, the copyright holder files a lawsuit against both the publisher and the publisher turns around and tells the author they must pay us for the publisher’s attorney’s fees in defending this case because the author signed an indemnity clause in the publishing agreement.
What types of rights should authors be try to keep vs. the ones they should expect to assign?
Always try to keep as many rights as you can. The publishing agreement that the author receives will state what rights the publisher expects to take. If the publisher wants print rights only, then it’s easy because then the author will keep all the other rights.
But if, as we often see, the press says that the author is assigning all rights, all subsidiary rights, that’s when the author should say, “Wait a minute. I don’t want to do that. I’m happy to give you print rights that I’m going to keep, for instance, foreign rights, and I’m going to keep translation rights, because I think I can sell those myself and I don’t want you to handle them right now until I’m more certain that you’re going to be the publisher for me in the future.”
How does this apply to business books?
For a typical business book your main focus should be print rights, how long the print rights are for, and that gets into the reversion rights for an out-of-print clause. You also want to consider whether it’s worthwhile to launch in audio format or overseas, either in English or translated overseas.
So in general, business authors should be concerned with subsidiary rights, print/digital rights, audio rights, and foreign and translation rights.
Recommend a book that you think that everybody should read.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.
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