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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Joining a Blog Network?: Protect Your Written Words

With all the blog networks, big and small, popping up lately, I thought that this post would be relevant to would-be network-bloggers.

Under the United Nations Copyright Convention (held in Berne, Switzerland in 1972), all UN member nations agreed to follow a certain code of conduct regarding media copyrighting. Back then, most of the rules applied to print media. One very important clause can be interpreted as follows: if a writer gives away his/her rights to an article or book simply because the publisher asked for it and the writer didn't know any better, the writer has the right to regain the copyright to the material regardless of the terms of the contract. On the other hand, if the writer signed a "work-for-hire" contract that is clearly stated thus, they are effectively turning over their copyright knowingly (provided the hirer made this clear).

These clauses are extremely important. I have usually maintained my copyrights for magazine articles, and further indicated to the editors in question that they may not publish my articles on a website or in a CD-ROM collection without my consent. But just over three years ago, I signed a contract to design the table of contents of a computer programming book and then co-author several chapters. I stroked out some items in the first version of the contract and sent it back, received a new copy, read it over, and signed it. A short while later, I was told that such and such chapters were being dropped, the total size of the book was trimmed in half, and as a result my royalty rate would be reduced. The editor sent yet another contract, which I didn't read carefully. Bad idea. I got sucker-punched.

Consider that before the popularity of big bookstore chains, an author or even-coauthor of a computer book could actually make a nice living writing a couple of books a year. But the big bookstore chains came along and demanded at least a 40% discount from publishers (unheard of before these chains). Who takes the hit? The publisher? Sometimes. But mostly the author, without whom the bookstores would cease to exist.

But this post isn't a diatribe on bookstore chains. The worst of this incident isn't just that my chapters were re-written in someone else's words, but the shock I got after the publisher went bankrupt. The publishing name transferred to two American publishers, who split the titles. I contacted the new owner of my co-authored title, in hopes of getting another book contract. After a few emails exchanged with an editor, when I brought up the topic of a new edition to the old book and mentioned my copyright on my chapters, I was challenged. What a shock when, after re-reading the 3rd draft of my contract (the one sent to me after the original publisher made several slash-and-burn changes), it said that I was doing a work for hire. My original editor swore to me, on the first draft of the contract, over the phone, that I would retain copyright. In Noth America, a verbal contract is legally binding. Except that the editor lived in England, and anyway, try proving a verbal agreement without a witness. They pulled a switcheroo by getting me to sign the third draft, with my guard down.

That's all in the past, though, and for the most part, I don't plan on approaching any print publishers for the time being. For now, I'm sticking to writing for the web and e-books. But here's my point: if you are joining one of the many excellent blog networks that keep popping up, whether or not you are getting paid, make sure that it is clear whether you will retain copyright on your posts, or whether you are doing a work-for-hire. It'll make a difference when you're a superstar blogger and are thinking of collecting your posts into a book.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash, http://blogspinner.blogspot.com

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BlogSpinner-X serves two primary purposes. Firstly, it houses the original version of my Blogspinner blog, and contains the full-text of my older entries. Secondly, the more recent entries are excerpts of the full-text entries posted over on Blogspinner V2.0. In other words, the "X" stands for "eXcerpt".

About Me
I'm a geek/ philosopher/ composer/ artist/ cook/ web programmer/ consultant/ photographer/ blah-blah-blah who is also a published writer and author. This is one of several blogs that I write.

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(c) Copyright: 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash, http://blogspinner.countwordula.com/