Authors Guild Furious Over New Simon and Schuster Author Contracts

Posted on May 18, 2007

The Authors Guild and literary agents are very upset about a big change in Simon and Schuster's standard author contract.

The Authors Guild is warning members about a new rights provision in Simon & Schuster contracts and urging them to consider not signing with the publisher.

In an an alert sent to its membership today, executive director Paul Aiken writes that S&S's new contract language gives the publisher the ability to retain rights to a book for the entire length of copyright, even if the book is not in print but remains in S&S's electronic database. Under its old contracts, rights to a book would revert back to the author if sales reached an agreed upon low level or the book was declared out of print. "This is an electronic warehousing of rights," Aiken said.

According to the Guild, under the new contract S&S considers a book to be in print, and under its control, so long as it's available in any form, even if no copies are available to be ordered by traditional bookstores. With the new contract language, the Guild asserts, the publisher would be able to stop printing a book and prevent the author from publishing it with any other house. Aiken said the change was first brought to the Guild's attention about a week ago and discussions with authors and agents have confirmed that the new provision is now part of the standard S&S contract.

Simon and Schuster responded by accusing the agents and authors of overreacting, saying that it is only updating its contracts to comport with the digital age. It then told the Guild that it will negotiate regarding the reversion of rights clause on a book-by-book basis. So far, Simon and Schuster is the only major publisher to try to claim a permanent copyright in an author's works.

We find this new contract term to be quite disturbing. Because it's unlikely that Simon and Schuster is paying any more money for these rights. Reversion of book rights is an important right for an author to have. This is an important point to negotiate in your next book contract. Ask your agent or attorney about it and be sure to read the fine print. Otherwise, you may discover that you've lost your reversion rights.

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