Author Contracts: The Grant of Rights

When an author signs a contract with a publishing house, the very first clause lays out the rights granted to the publisher. Without this clause, the contract doesn’t exist and the author’s manuscript doesn’t get published. So what is a “grant of rights” and what does it entail?

A typical grant of rights might read something like this (emphases mine):

I. GRANT OF RIGHTS

The Author grants the Publisher the exclusive right to publish, reproduce, and distribute the Work in all languages and to exercise and grant to third parties the rights to the Work described in Paragraph 6 throughout the world (“the Territory”) for the full term of copyright available to the Work in the Territory.

Every word in this clause is very important and helps define the rest of the contract that an author has with a publisher. So, let’s go through it:

The Basics

There are three basic definitions made before every grant of rights in the first line of a contract: the Author, the Publisher, and the Work. These lay out the parties agreeing to the contract and which manuscript the contract refers to. Beginning in the grant of rights, these parties will often be referred to as the generic terms “Author,” “Publisher,” and “Work,” but they have been previously defined and agreed upon by all parties.

The Author of a work is whoever owns the copyright. For fiction, this is most commonly the person who wrote the manuscript. Even if the book is being published under a pseudonym, the contract must state the legal name of the author. For nonfiction, the Author may be an organization or corporation and is not necessarily the person who actually wrote the manuscript.

The Publisher is the specific publishing house or imprint that will be publishing the manuscript. If something goes array with the manuscript or contract, the Publisher is the entity that gets sued.

The Work is the manuscript being published. Before the grant of rights, the Work will be referred to by its title or working title. Later in the contract, specifications are made as to the format and acceptability of the manuscript that will be delivered.

The Key

The most essential and important phrase in the grant of rights is “the exclusive right to publish, reproduce, and distribute.” This phrase holds the entire concept of publication within it. If the publishing house does not have the exclusive and explicit right to publish (i.e. put the copyrighted work out for public consumption), reproduce (i.e. create copies of the work), and distribute (i.e. sell those copies to the public), there is no publication.

The Specifics

The remaining parts of the grant of rights help specify the extent to which the publisher has rights to the work. These vary from contract to contract and are negotiated by the literary agent and author as they decide which rights they would like to grant and which they would like to retain.

Rights granted here include:

  • the languages a publisher can produce books in (English, English/Spanish, and all languages are the most common options)
  • the territory the publisher can produce books for (e.g. the United States, USA/Canada, North America, World, etc.; publishers want world rights, but literary agents may fight to retain those in order to sell the book to other publishers in other markets)
  • the subsidiary rights licensing that the publisher can or cannot undertake (the example grant above instructs those reading the contract to reference “Paragraph 6” to further see the subsidiary rights that the publisher can grant or license to third parties; examples include book club editions, excerpts for newspapers, paperback reprints, etc.)
  • the term of copyright for which the publisher has access to the work (in the example grant of rights, the publisher has access for “the full term of copyright available to the Work in the Territory”; for the United States, that term is 35 years with the option to renegotiate the contract in the 35th year of the copyright)

Reading a contract thoroughly is very important to getting the fullest understanding of your rights as an author and your expectations from a publisher. The grant of rights is just the first clause. Stay tuned throughout the summer for further posts about contracts, rights, and the legalese of publishing!

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