I was on a bit of a mission yesterday, trying to get someone to decipher a contract I got from a new editor in the States. As a freelancer, I have never signed a contract in my life. This mystifying document caused not only confusion, but great merriment in the house of Boo.
The publisher wanted exclusive and perpetual rights to everything I ever write for them, which means I cannot sell them elsewhere – ever! He wants me to sign over audio rights throughout the world. He wants newspaper and syndication rights. He even wants merchandising rights on my piddling waffle. It’s like those insurance contracts where there’s a provision for nuclear war, rampant tinea and alien invasion.
First I went to my old man, then the Writer’s Centre, then the Arts Law website, and finally remembered my friend M-Tess, who is a woman of the world. She pointed out that I have to clarify what I want from this mob, and to screw them accordingly. She even noticed a provision for the signing over of moral rights, which, while they are acknowledged here, you can’t actually sign away in Australia.
The way she explained it was delicious:
Supposing you’re a deeply religious person and you paint a picture of a lovely angel, with wings, blonde hair, blue eyes etc. Supposing your editor then comes along and draws a big penis on it, and publishes it. This would infringe your moral rights, as someone of a religious nature, and with the intent to produce something delightful has now been taken from its original meaning and insulted its owner.
As I am not an employee of this company, it’s a bit rich to ask for moral rights. According to the Australian Copyright Council, moral rights “are the unassignable personal right of a creator of a work or maker of a film to be acknowledged as the creator of the work or film (right of attribution); and object to derogatory treatment of the work or film (right of integrity).”
We freelancers are a nervous and superstitious lot, always keen to keep up good relations with our editors. I once had an editor from an unmentionable bridal website change my piece on different weddings around the world, to something quite racist and derogatory towards other cultures. Eager to finish my agreement with them and get paid, I let it drop, as my name wasn’t on it.
However I’ve had other things altered as well. One signature piece had ‘cacti’ changed throughout to ‘cactuses’. As a lover of plurals in their proper place, this makes me look a bit of a dope, particularly as it’s been reproduced a few times – does their misguided subbing offend my morals? You bet!
So although the entire things shits me (morally, emotionally and financially) I did indeed learn a thing or two yesterday about negotiations, expectations and A-merikans, which is never a bad thing.