The Authors Guild has followed through on their promise to critique the boilerplate clauses in author-publisher contracts. Yesterday TAG published the first in what they say will be a series of posts on the topic.
I'm still waiting for the lawyer who runs The Passive Voice blog to post his opinion, but as I sit here reading the post I can see that TAG is off to a good start.
They missed one of the most obvious flaws in these contracts(*), but they do raise a number of important issues, including fair digital royalties, termination clauses, the way that "advances" have begun to recede into the distant future, non-compete clauses, and the like.
As TAG explains in the post, these types of contract clauses can be renegotiated if one is aware of the possibility:
"Standard" contracts—the boilerplate offered to un-agented (or under-agented) authors—are even worse than those that most authors with agents or lawyers sign. That’s because agented agreements traditionally start off with the many changes that the agent or lawyer has previously negotiated with a particular publisher. One agented contract we’ve seen includes at least 96 changes from the original "standard" language, plus seven additional clauses and two additional riders. Every one of those changes is a point that the agent has negotiated in the author’s favor.
And with this series, TAG is hoping to make authors more aware of their options.
It's a good start, but I find myself in agreement with the commenter who wondered whether this would not come to more than just another blurb in The Authors Guild marketing copy. "The Authors Guild fought for better contract terms for authors" the blurb will say, but the effectiveness of the fight will be left unstated.
P.S. The Authors Guild missed one terribly obvious flaw with most publishing contracts: the boilerplate terms are not publicly available. Unlike just about every modern publishing service (KDP, Draft2Digital, Bibliocrunch, etc) legacy publishers still operate behind a veil of secrecy. I would think that should be The Authors Guild's first target.