SoA Calls for Action on Author Contracts

8 July 2015

Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors, made a call for immediate action to protect creators from onerous contracts when she spoke last night to the All Party Writers Group Summer Reception.

Following addresses from Pete Wishart MP, Chair of the All Party Writers Group, and John Whittingdale, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Solomon gave a speech calling for a review of laws applicable to creator contracts and introduction of legislation to address unfair contract terms, naming it the Magnificent Seven for CREATOR contracts.

C - clearer Contracts, including written contracts which set out the exact scope of the rights granted.

R - fair Remuneration. Equitable and unwaivable remuneration for all forms of exploitation, to include bestseller clauses so that if a work does far better than expected the creator shares in its success, even if copyright was assigned.

E - an obligation of Exploitation for each mode of exploitation, also known as the 'use it or lose it' Clause: fair, understandable and proper Accounting clauses.

T - Term. Reasonable and limited contract terms and regular reviews to take into account new forms of exploitation.

O - Ownership. Authors, including illustrators and translators, should be appropriately credited for all uses of their work and moral rights should be unwaivable.

R - All other clauses be subject to a general test of Reasonableness, including a list of defined clauses which are automatically deemed to be void and a general safeguarding provision that any contract provision which, contrary to the requirement of good faith, causes a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations arising under the contract to the detriment of the author shall be regarded as unfair. One example would be Indemnity clauses which put all the risk on the author. She pointed out that publishers are holding on to moribund rights which authors could exploit more effectively, creating income for themselves and the British economy. She cited the example of Catherine Gaskin, where the out-of-print titles have been reverted to the SoA and are now earning over £7,000 per year.

She said

So that’s it. The Magnificent Seven. CREATOR. These laws are not radical. They already exist throughout many European countries. These changes are easy and timely and we urge that they should be effected.

Solomon noted that legislation is needed to protect creators, who suffer from a power imbalance when negotiating with publishers:

Authors are not in a strong negotiating position. Publishers are often large multinationals while authors typically work alone. Especially at the start of their careers they may have little or no advice and are thrilled to be offered publishing contracts. Creators 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.

You can read the full speech here.

Solomon was followed by author Alexandra Heminsley who spoke about the struggle to make a living as an author and appealed to parliamentarians to help in getting fair contracts for authors.

Philip Pullman, President of the Society of Authors, backed the call, saying:

Authors often work in a solitary way, and our main task is very different from negotiating contracts and rights. It's not always easy to see our way through the thickets of legal language that grow so vigorously around the commercial exploitation of our work, nor to know how our own position with regard to our rights compares with others. When a paper like the EU Study shows how much worse the position of authors is in the UK than in many other countries, we can only welcome it strongly, and urge publishers to comply with its recommendations. The essential point is that the balance of fairness has tilted the wrong way, and it's often not only the work that's being exploited - its creators are too. It's time for that to stop, and for authors to be rewarded here as justly as they are elsewhere.