Even though words are our stock-and-trade, many writers are intimidated by contract wording. The pages look fuzzy and convoluted, like some math-test nightmare from high school. Writers assume they won’t understand the contracts, so they close their eyes and click SUBMIT.
Nonsense. If you can write a book, then you can read a contract well enough to spot a bad deal. The trick is knowing where to look.
This post is the first of the Highlighter Series in which I will take actual contacts, highlight key provisions, and explain meanings and consequences. I won’t tell you NOT to sign these contracts, but I will tell you NOT to sign these contracts unless you understand what you are giving away and that you have better choices.
My first victim: MeeGenius Author Challenge
Last week, a friend asked me to look at the MeeGenius Original Publishing Agreement. MeeGenius publishes digital children’s books, particularly for tablets. She was about to submit her picture book to the MeeGenius Author Challenge, but the Publishing Agreement scared her.
I opened the Agreement. I looked first for any section titled Grant of Rights or License. This is always a good place to start. If you find unacceptable terms, then you don’t need to read any further.
What I found was troubling:
2. Grant of Exclusive Book Rights
If MeeGenius accepts your Manuscript, you agree to grant, and hereby grant, to MeeGenius exclusive worldwide, perpetual rights, with the right to sublicense, to publish and otherwise “use” (as defined further below) the Manuscript as a book, in print form, audio book, sound recording, and/or any other analog, digital or digitized formats, for distribution in original or translated versions in all languages, in all cases, over or via any communications network or medium, in all cases, whether now existing or hereafter devised…
MeeGenius may make edits and adapt the Manuscript to render the “Work” as one or more linear or enhanced books. MeeGenius may add or replace illustrations, cover art, songs, audio narration, sounds, video, images and graphics commissioned and/or owned by MeeGenius or licensed from third parties (” MeeGenius Added Work “)…
The rights granted by you will be referred to as “Book Rights.” The Book Rights are exclusive including as to yourself. This mean you may not grant any further Book Rights in the Manuscript without MeeGenius’s approval…
MeeGenius will also have the right to create a series of or other derivative books based on one or more of the story lines, characters, specific passages of text, actual illustrations or derivatives illustrations in the style thereof, or other aspects of the Manuscript or Work, on the same royalty and payment terms as provided herein as applicable…
My comments: So MeeGenius may publish e-books, print books, audio books, sound recordings, and translations in currently existing media as well as formats developed in the future. They may even create a series based upon the author’s works. This is unacceptably broad. I recommend against granting rights to a publisher unless that publisher has the experience and track-record to develop, publish and market that particular format successfully.
MeeGenius produces ebooks only. Why would an ebook company want rights it cannot use? Because the agreement also gives MeeGenius the right to sublicense and assign its rights to others. They could sell off your work without your consent.
But there’s more.
4. Grant of Non-Exclusive “Other Rights.”
Without duplication of the “Book Rights” above, you agree to grant, and hereby grant, to MeeGenius non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual rights, with rights to sublicense, in and to the Manuscript and any resulting Work(s) to create derivative works in any non-Book formats in any and all media, whether now existing or hereafter devised (the “ Other Rights ”)…
Some examples of Other Rights can include adapting the Work as a video game, virtual environment, stage dramatization, movie, television, etc., licensing a character, title, illustration, or a portion of the contents for merchandising goods or services, or creating derivative works (other than as covered by the Book Rights) based on one or more of the story lines, characters, specific passages of text, actual illustrations or derivatives illustrations in the style thereof, or other aspects of any of the Work.
My comments: The grant of movie, broadcast, merchandising and other rights is non-exclusive, which means you could sell these rights to others. But in reality, as long as MeeGenius has non-exclusive rights, no one else will want to invest in creating a movie, show or merchandise since (i) MeeGenius could piggy-back on any success, and (ii) MeeGenius gets a cut of all revenues generated by others. Also unacceptable.
Can you ever get out of the MeeGenius Agreement? Unlikely.
9. Term; Termination.
Termination. This Agreement may be terminated by either party upon written notice to the other party as follows:
- By you, upon sixty (60) days’ prior written notice to MeeGenius, if MeeGenius breaches its payments obligations and MeeGenius fails to cure such payment breach within such 60-day period.
- By you, if MeeGenius fails to publish the Manuscript as a Work on any part of its publishing platform within twelve (12) months of its receipt and formal written acceptance of such Manuscript…
- By you with respect to any individual Work, upon at least sixty (60) days’ prior written notice to MeeGenius identifying such Work, if MeeGenius ceases to publish or otherwise make available for purchase such Work pursuant to any of the Book Rights in any format and on any medium for a consecutive period of six (6) months, provided that no such termination notice shall be effective if MeeGenius demonstrates that such Work was made available in a format or on a medium pursuant to any of the Book Rights during the 6-month period alleged or resumes publishing or making available such Work within such 60-day notice period.
My comments: If they fail to publish or make your work available for purchase, then you may terminate. To avoid termination, all they have to do is offer your ebook for sale on Amazon for a few days.
My blood pressure was so high at this point I kept researching.
Here’s more from the Official Rules and Conditions, as well as their Website
Even if you are not a winner, MeeGenius reserves the right to publish and use all or a part of your entry as an eBook and for other uses as described and provided for in the MeeGenius Standard Form of Publishing Agreement, in which case you may be contacted separately with an acceptance of your entry for publication purposes only.
My comments: So, merely by submitting to the contest, you could be forced into this Agreement. However, there is no $1500 cash prize. There is no mention of any advance.
If you are not a winner or separately contacted about publication by December 31, 2014, all rights in your submission fully revert back to you and you retain full rights to your submission.
My comments: So they hold onto your rights for months. This is significant because the website also states:
Your manuscript cannot be submitted to any other publishing houses or challenges during the review period. Once your rights are reverted back to you then you have full rights to submit your manuscript with other publishers.
My comments: So writers are granting them a six-month exclusive.
I kept going. An internet search led me to troubling complaints by MeeGenius employees on GlassDoor.
And check out reviews on Amazon.
Of course, MeeGenius will pay the standard author royalties on any and all of sales derived from the author’s work. They are not stealing anyone’s creations, but they are asking for more than I would be comfortable giving.
Writers, you do not have to agree to contract terms such as these. Seek out companies and contests with fair, author-friendly terms. Give them your work and your business. We want them to thrive alongside writers.
And, let’s work together here. As you come across egregious, over-reaching contracts, or fair, balanced agreements, please send me an email. I will help spread the word.SHARE THIS