For the past couple months The Authors Guild has been running a series of blog posts on the author-unfriendly parts of boilerplate publishing contracts. They call it their Fair Contracts Initiative. In the first post TAG lightly touched on several topics, including fair digital royalties and non-compete clauses, and today TAG focused its attention on termination clauses.
The Authors Guild says that the current standard zombie contract terms (it won't even end if you die) should be much more limited:
We think the “standard” contract should last for a limited period of time from the date of publication; it should end well before the 35-year termination window opens. When the contract expires, if a book is still doing well, the author and publisher might negotiate another time-limited deal—or the author might choose to move the book to a house that has put more effort into marketing the author’s later works.
The Authors Guild is also taking the position that any rights (foreign, digital, audio) not exercised by the publisher should revert to the author even sooner:
All subsidiary rights an author grants to a publisher should be subject to reversion after the author’s demand if they are not exercised or exploited within eighteen to twenty-four months of publication. There’s no reason why a publisher’s ineffectiveness at selling subsidiary rights should reduce the author’s income forever.
You can find more in the original blog post.
All in all, these are very pretty words, but I would remind you that they are only words. The Authors Guild is talking about how authors should have more rights and more control, but we don't see them taking any action to make that happen.
Instead, when we look at what else The Authors Guild is saying it is obvious that the leopard has not changed its spots; this group still works for the publishing industry. For example, a couple weeks back The Authors Guild espoused the SOPA-lite "notice and stay down" position of the big media companies, even though TAG's own data showed that piracy was not a serious issue.
Given that this is the same group that has repeatedly taken the publishers' position in the past whenever the topic of Amazon comes up (including just a few weeks ago), it's reasonable to conclude that this series of posts is just a smokescreen.
And that's a shame, because authors could really have used an ally.
image by allspice1