Authors' earnings are in decline. Poor contract terms are part of the problem.
We vet over a thousand contracts a year for our members and we see many where authors hand over rights for no advance and with no guarantee of exploitation by the publisher. Fairer reversion terms would also allow authors to monetise their own work.
But authors are not in a strong negotiating position.Authors frequently need to negotiate with monopolies or with dominant players in highly specialised markets, such as scientific publishers. Individual creators are therefore at an inherent disadvantage when negotiating the terms of their contracts.
Many contracts are offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Especially at the start of their careers, authors may have little or no advice and are thrilled to be offered publishing contracts.
Why is this the time to address it?
There are two reasons why the situation should be addressed now.
The EU Study of 2013 showed that the UK is lacking the legal frameworks which protect creators in many other EU countries. It also shows that EU creators are often subject to onerous contracts and do not receive a fair share of the reward for their creativity. The Study says:
European authors are in a difficult position as demonstrated throughout this study. This patchwork of national provisions also prejudices exploiters of copyright works due to the uncertainties they face in an industry that is becoming more and more global.
The Reda report on copyright reform has now been adopted. In several places it affirms the importance of fair remuneration for authors and calls for improvements to the contractual position of authors and performers in relation to other rightsholders and intermediaries, notably by considering a reasonable period for the use of rights transferred by authors to third parties, after which those rights would lapse, as contractual exchanges may be marked by an imbalance of power.
Many other European countries already have such legislation and to offer it to our authors is a powerful bargaining tool in EU negotiations.
2. At Home
Business-to-business legislation is in urgent need of review. The Consumer Rights Act has consolidated and clarified rights for consumers by taking laws out of many different pieces of legislation and putting them in one Act.
What has been left for business is a ragbag of legislation, much of which does not deal with the realities of digital business and the impossibility of negotiating terms with global businesses. It needs reform in the same thorough and systematic way that was applied to consumer contracts.