Blog Post

The Death Star Contract: Or, What's Left of Authorship Anyway?

Here's a contract I was asked to sign recently.  I decided not to (i.e. no ... way!) , for reasons that will be clear when you read the contract, excerpted below.

 

A major international news magazine, formerly a print publication and now available only on line, asked me to write an article about digital literacy.   After reading this contract, excerpted here and quoted verbatim, I think the take-away message is that we had all better become a bit more digitally literate.*  It seems as if every day I learn of another case where the noose of copyright tightens, copyright infringement (piracy) widens, and authors and, sometimes, legitimate publishers (and especially nonprofit university presses) are squeezed from every side.  Read these provisions.  Think about them.   I'm a professor so I have a steady source of income.  But what about freelance writers and journalists?   You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that this one's a big loser for authors. 

 

(1) "Writers Shall Not Be Compensated for the Work" . . .

 

(2)  "Writer agrees that all Works are a contribution to a 'collective work' and are 'works made for hire.'  Accordingly, Writer acknowledges that [Said Publication] shall be considered the author of each work and at all times be the sole owner of all rights (including but not limited to copyright in and to which Work and to all revenues derived therefrom)" . . .

 

(3) "Writer represents, warrants and covenants that each Work is original and has not previously been published in any form." . . .

 

(4)  "Writer will not research, write, or otherwise work on any subject as any Work for any publication competitive with the Magazine or the Website (including, without limitation Time, Newsweek, Business Week, Forbes, Fortune, The New Yorker, Harper's or The New Republic and their respective websites, and WebMD and similar websites) until at least one month after the newsstand on sale date of the issue or issues of the Magazine in which the relevant Work appears." . . .  

 

(5)  "Writer shall indemnify and hold harmless [said publication] with respect to any liability arising from a breach of the warranties, representations or covenants set forth herein." . . .
 

(6)  "[Said Publication] shall have the right to use the name, approved likeness and biography of the Writer for publicity or promotional purposes." . . .

 

(7)  "Writer acknowledges that prior to publication, the information appearing in [Said Publication] is confidential and proprietary." . . .  

 

Dear Publisher:    I'm really supposed to give you all the rights, indemnify you, promise not to publish anything similar elsewhere . . . and all for nothing, for no compensation?   

Really?   Really? 

 

 

 

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*NB:  Contract is excerpted and the name of the publication is not given because, well, it is a (you guessed it) copywrighted document!   Really.

 

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Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, and author of The Future of Thinking:  Learning Institutions for a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and  Now You See It:  How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking Press). She is co-PI on the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions.   NOTE:  The views expressed in Cat in the Stack blogs and in NOW YOU SEE IT are solely those of the author and not of HASTAC, nor of any institution or organization. Davidson also writes on her own author blog,  www.nowyouseeit.net [NYSI cover]

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1 comment

I've seen some bad contracts before, but never anything like this one.  For me, points 2 and 6 are horrifying.  Not only is the contribution a 'collective work' and thus the 'Writer acknowledges that [Said Publication] shall be considered the author of each work and at all times be the sole owner of all rights,' but on top of that '[Said Publication] shall have the right to use the name, approved likeness and biography of the Writer for publicity or promotional purposes.'  So not only is your contribution not yours, but then the [Said Publication] has the right to promote your name without recognizing the contribution as actually being yours?  That's ridiculous, but not ridiculous enough that no one will sign a contract like this one and that's sad.  

 

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