Law and the Writer
Last week a young writer who is also a lawyer was on blog tour, and I have asked her if she wouldn’t mind stopping by the comments today to answer some questions. The usual disclaimers apply: although she is a lawyer, she is not your lawyer, and nothing you read in the post or comments should be taken as legal advice. If you think you need a lawyer, get one, internet lawyering may well be worse than useless. That being said, it’s great to get some insight into the sometimes murky world of Intellectual Property law.
I’m pleased to introduce Amie Gibbons, whose energy in real life translates into her books. She writes lighthearted stories with sweet Southern sass, belles who pack heat, and a dollop of romance on top of things that go bump in the night. Her latest is Psychic Undercover (With the Undead) and it’s a fun romp of a book.
Okay, if you’re a writer, you’ve heard the term copyright. It’s very important in the arts. So what is a copyright?
It is literally what it sounds like, the right to copy. It means you own that type of mental work and you are the only one who can make reproductions of it.
On some things, it’s easy to say what’s copyrightable and what isn’t. A book is copyrightable, but what about a title? Or a made up word? Or a general plot? There it gets a little more tricky. It gets grey. Lawyers love grey, it gets us lots of money.
This post is just going to touch on the basics of copyright.
1. For something like a book, the first question is usually along the lines of, “Do I have to register it to have protection?” Basic answer is no. You created it, it’s yours and legally no one can take it from you. You have copyright as soon as the art is put on a medium, as in, words are put on the page.
So no, you don’t have to register it with the copyright office, and you really do not have to do the “poor man’s copyright” (that’s where people would mail themselves their manuscripts in the mail and keeping the dated paperwork to prove they had the work on that date).
The tricky part if you get caught in a legal battle is proving it was yours first. This is where a registered copyright helps because it helps prove it was yours on the date registered (it also does other stuff for you like you can sue in federal court and get greater damages in court).Read the rest here…
The post on copyright, fair use, and other common IP questions appeared at my blog, and then on James Young’s blog, Amie delved into the dank world of Contract Law.
Well, first up, most publishers have a form contract they expect you to sign and if you don’t want to, they’ll tell you it’s standard across the industry and you can take it or leave it. If you leave it, don’t worry, there are a hundred authors behind you who will have no problem with it.
That is one of the big things to look at in contract negotiations. Does one side have more bargaining power than the other? Usually the answer is yes. Unfortunately for writers who are set on going trad pub, the answer is extremely yes. The publisher has all the power because they don’t really need you. Unless you have already made it huge like that Fifty Shades woman and they want to get on board the train, you’re replaceable.
Does that mean you can’t try to negotiate? Of course not. Hire an IP lawyer who specializes in author contracts to look at the contract, to explain it to you if need be, and to go to the table to negotiate on your behalf.
First rule of negotiations, you never send the person with the power to say yes to the table.
Why? Because if you as the author are at the table, they can pressure you right there to agree to something. If your representative is there, there is nothing they can say to get the rep to say anything but, I’ll take it to my client, because the rep legally cannot say yes, no matter how good the deal sounds. Even if you tell them they can say yes if the deal has XYZ terms, they’ll still most likely say they’ll take it back to you because they know how to negotiate and that no legit deal requires you to say yes in the room.
Again, will this help if the publisher says this is the form contract that is standard across the industry so you will take it or leave it? Probably not. But you never know. There might be a few things that are just egregious to the author that publishers have in there because they know they can get away with it, but really don’t mind dropping if you ask. Read the rest here…
Amie has some very practical things to say, with a good dollop of commonsense. I know this is a lot of reading when you follow the links, but it’s all worth digesting. Then come on back here and ask questions in the comments, both Amie and I will be around to answer them! I am not a lawyer, at all, but I can usually come up with a link to an answer.