Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yeah, Right

I am fortunate to be married to a very smart guy and this year we celebrate 25 years of marriage. Wahoo! Big party on the coast of Maine if you are in town.

OK, so what does this have to do with you writers and aspiring writers out there? Well, I had the good sense to marry not only a smart guy, but an attorney. And not just any attorney, but one who would go back to law school after many years of practice to get an LLM (legal mumbo jumbo for an advanced degree) in Intellectual Property Law. And this affects you -- yes, you! -- because I'm going to share something he just discovered for me. FOR FREE!

(First, let me say that it was pretty fun when the kids were small to say that Daddy was getting an IP degree. You can imagine the jokes we got to make! Hee hee.)

Anyway, back to "our" discovery. I wrote a book back in 2000 that has sold pretty well and that I revised and was released again in 2007. The other day we opened the royalty statement and lo and behold, my e-book sales had surpassed the print. My husband noted that I was being paid 15% for those books, but when he checked my contract with the publisher, it stipulated payments for books the company sold, and books the company sold to other distributors, and said any remaining or "digital rights" would be 50%. Hmmm! The other interesting thing: my contract stipulated that when this book is out of print, the rights to the book revert back to me. All rights. Obviously it was negotiated back in the day when "out of print" meant something, because there were no digital options.

In real estate we learn about the bundle of rights that can transfer with a property. There are water and air rights, rights-of-way, and other instruments that benefit a property, as well as easements, covenants, and other restrictions that can limit that bundle. In intellectual property, it's sort of the same thing. Rather than the rights to ownership of a townhouse or Queen Anne, these are the rights to property of the mind.

It's a tricky new world out there, because with each technological advance, all the boundaries shift. Keeping on top of it all is a challenge. Are you paying close attention to the bundle of creative rights you are giving away when you sign a contract? Do you really want to sign away film rights? Are you ready to give away digital rights in perpetuity? Do you have the right to reproduce parts of your story yourself?

Many of us are not legal eagles or even business types, but we need to know this stuff nonetheless. If you have questions about your rights to your published work, let me know, and I'll pass them along to my IP guy. He's very good and I happen to know where he lives.

13 comments:

C. N. Nevets said...

Thanks for the hones heads-up, Vicki. I appreciate it.

Beth Groundwater said...

Congratulations, Vicki, and I hope you & your hubby were able to get the extra royalties you deserved from that publisher!

Dealing with rights issues and contract law is one of the main reasons I have a literary agent and that I think every professional author should have an agent.

Lois Winston said...

Ditto what Beth said. Contracts are ALWAYS written in the best interests of the person or company writing the contract. Unless you're an expert at contracts law, specifically publishing contracts, you should never negotiate your own contract.

Darrell James said...

Vicki- Thanks for keeping our radar up. As writers, it's easy to get lost in our fictional worlds and ignore reality.

G.M. Malliet said...

The fun thing about being a writer these days is you get to wear so many hats! Law, marketing, promotion, sales and IT! No wonder I'm exhausted.

Hey, lady, there is no way you've been married 25 years unless you were a child bride.

Ann said...

First of all Happy 25th Anniversary. Next thank you for passing this along. Will definately keep your IP guy in mind if any questions come along that confuse me. Which wouldn't be hard! hahaha!

Keith Raffel said...

Gin, I can think of another way Vicki has been married 25 years. (Haven't you read The Picture of Dorian Gray?)

Keith Raffel said...

P.S. No wonder Dorian Gray was on my mind. The film version of The Picture of Dorian Gray is playing right now in downtown Palo Alto.
http://stanfordtheatre.org/stf/calendars/Winter%202011.html

G.M. Malliet said...

What a great old movie. They need to remake that. I can't wait for the new Mildred Pierce.

G.M. Malliet said...

p.s. But I digress! Also wanted to thank Vicki for offering her IP guy - you never know when a question is going to come up.

Anne K. Albert said...

Thanks for sharing this info. I have to mention, however, that as writers NO ONE cares more about our royalties than we do. Please take care and be aware of your own finances. Everyone else is looking out for themselves.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Happy Anniversary, Vicki! And thanks for reminding us to pay attention to our contracts. I go over mine with a fine tooth comb and if I have questions, I run them by one of the 40 attorneys in my office.

The Cat Bastet said...

Hi Vicki,

I'm glad you are making so much on your e-books! I'm reading A House to Die For and really like it. I hope there are many more to come!

Cathy Akers-Jordan