Condé Nast’s new boilerplate contract for freelancers, under which it acquires a free 12-month right to option dramatic and multimedia rights to articles appearing in its magazines and then, if it exercises that option, shares less than half the usual amount with the author, has gotten us thinking: what makes a rights grab? After all, there are lots of terms in a typical freelance journalism contract or book publishing contract that wouldn’t be there if the two parties had roughly equal bargaining power. (We’ll name two from trade book contracts: ebook royalties at 25% of net proceeds and any noncompete clause that isn’t reciprocal.)
So, when does a contractual term cross the line and become a rights grab? Breaking with industry practice is clearly one thing to consider. A second is whether the publisher is seeking to control rights that aren’t the main point of the contract. A third — a biggie — is compensation: is the publisher taking rights at bargain-basement rates? Another way to look at that is whether a journalist or book author with greater bargaining power would find the deal acceptable.
Condé Nast’s new boilerplate hits this trifecta with ease. Taking dramatization rights breaks with industry practice. The publisher is compensating the freelancer for his or her journalism, not for speculative movie and tv deals. And freelancers with adequate clout are reportedly avoiding the onerous new clauses entirely.
What do you think? What new contractual terms of the past decade or so would qualify as rights grabs?