Thursday, December 13, 2012

Copyright and Contract: Really Small Print Can Have Really BIG Consequences

*Royalty-free image via Pin Point:photo credit below
For the past two weeks I've gone over issues relating to copyright ownership, including work for hire, the distinction between being an employee and an independent contractor, and how all of this impacts ownership of copyright.

It's pretty complicated legal stuff.  Others would use a different "s" word.

The plain fact is that most issues regarding copyright ownership can and are resolved terms by the terms a contract.

Whether it's called a Release, or Consent, or Agreement, or Terms of Use, Submission Guidelines, or Waiver, or Authorization, or something else, a document that allows someone else to publish your work, or a derivative of your work, is a contract. And the terms of that contract have consequences.

If you are signing one of these,  or if you are making an online submission under Terms of Use or Submission Guidelines, you are doing something that gives someone else a part of your bundle of intellectual property rights that you possess in your own work.  In other words, you are turning over some (or possibly all) of your rights you have in your own work product.
**Royalty-free image via Pin Point: photo credit below

So pay attention to the fine print in any contract. This includes those pesky Terms and Conditions  you click agreement to on so many websites.

For example, when you join Facebook, that "click" grants a license that any content you post as "public"  can be copied and re-posted by any other Facebook user.  This includes your writings and your photos.

Those small print words mean something.  And they can make a substantial difference in your rights.

Can you negotiate these terms?  Well yes -- and no.  You have the right to negotiate any terms in an agreement.  But in many cases (Facebook for example), it is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.  If you don't like the terms, don't sign or make the submission. 

But sometimes terms are negotiable.  That's where a talented literary agent can become your best friend.  Movie rights.  Foreign rights.  E-book rights. Derivative rights.  Merchandising rights. They are all part of the bundle of intellectual property rights you possess when you create a work.  An experienced lawyer can help you understand those legal rights.  A good agent can help you negotiate them as part of a deal.

So read those contracts closely.  Talk with your agent, if you have one. Consult with an attorney who knows something about copyright and publishing.

Above all, make sure you understand what rights you are signing over to someone else when you sign or click to create a contract.

*photo credit: <a href="">[phil h]</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

**photo credit: <a href="">mjaniec</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

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