Electronic Rights

The Authors Guild has consistently argued that authors should be compensated for electronic publication of their work, just as they are paid for print publication – whether the works are published as electronic books, reprinted on the Internet, included in a library database or made available in any other electronic format.

Does Your Print Book Publisher Also Want Electronic Rights?

Carefully inspect the Grant of Rights clause in your publishing contract. You may discover that one of the rights your publisher has requested is the exclusive ability to publisher or allow others to publish electronic versions of your book. A furious struggle over electronic rights has been waged in the past several years, and nowadays many publishers routinely ask for very broad grants of electronic rights in their boilerplate contracts.

Determine whether your publisher has the ability to adequately exploit the electronic rights requested. If you aren’t certain your publisher has the ability to effectively produce and market an electronic version of your work, reserve these rights to yourself for now. If you decide to grant electronic rights, try to pin your publisher down on its plans for your book – Internet download? Verbatim text electronic edition? Multimedia format? – and grant only those rights.

Currently, most publishers are more interested in verbatim text electronic rights than in multimedia formats. Therefore, you should be able to reserve multimedia electronic rights for sale at a later date. If you cannot, ask your publisher to accept a right of first negotiation with respect to future disposition of these rights instead of an upfront, outright grant with a pre-established royalty rate.

If your publisher insists on an upfront, outright grant of electronic rights, insert contractual language requiring the publisher to negotiate royalty and Subsidiary Rights licensing splits with you immediately prior to the planned exploitation or licensing of electronic rights.

The royalty rate your publisher proposes to pay if it publishes its own electronic edition of your book should be enumerated in the Royalties clause of your contract. If your publisher licenses electronic rights to another publisher, your share of the fee should be enumerated in the Subsidiary Rights clause of your contract.  Electronic publishing is still an evolving industry without clear standards, and royalty rates are in flux. See Advocacy for the most recent updates on ebook royalties.

Have Your Freelance Articles Been Published On The Internet?

Supreme Court jurisprudence has firmly established that publishers must obtain your prior permission before publishing or allowing electronic databases to publish your freelance articles on the Internet.

Carefully inspect the Grant of Rights clause in your freelance journalism contract. You may find that you’re being asked to surrender electronic rights in not only the current article but also rights in all your previous contributions to the newspaper or magazine. Even worse, you may also discover that you’re being asked to sign away your copyright in the article.

Don’t agree to transfer your copyright to your publisher. Copyright law gives you all rights in and control over your work. If you give your copyright to your publisher, you relinquish control over your article, including the ability to republish the work.

Under the current climate, you may find it difficult to reserve electronic publication rights in the article that is the subject of your freelance contract. However, you should make every effort to negotiate additional compensation for electronic publication. Also, even though your publisher may ask for rights to your previous contributions without offering additional payment, you shouldn’t agree to this type of retroactive rights grab. Guild members, acting on our advice, have been able to negotiate this prior contributions provision out of even their New York Times freelance contracts.

Are You Receiving Royalties For Your Internet Publications?

Created as part of the Guild’s advocacy efforts in the electronic rights area, the Authors Registry acts as a collection and distribution agent for individual payments for electronic and photocopy reproduction of participants’ published works.