Friday, 3 April 2009

Release Forms

Some publishing companies demand that all authors sign a release form prior to submitting their work.

This is not a standard procedure in publishing.

It’s done to protect the publishers against plagiarism charges should they go on to reject a book and subsequently publish something similar. It seems to have crept in from the screenwriting world where release forms are more more common: but with the copyright laws as they stand, publishers don’t really need this extra level of protection.

It is, however, a useful red flag for writers. If a publisher asks you to send a release form with your submission you would be wise to reconsider submitting to them. Because it’s not a standard procedure, it’s a good sign that the publisher might also follow dubious practices elsewhere; and while most of the releases I’ve seen are perfectly benign, some grab all rights to the work, in perpetuity, no matter where it is eventually sold, or who makes the sale.

9 comments:

Marty said...

Thanks for the great tip...

BuffySquirrel said...

I vaguely remember that when Wizards of the Coast Discoveries launched, they asked for a release form--which is a major reason why I didn't submit, despite being tempted. As far as I could see--and I'm not a lawyer--the release meant that I couldn't sue either them or their employees for plagiarism, even if my work was provably plagiarised. Ahem.

Of course, I may just be paranoid. It goes with being a small rodent in a large world!

(word ver: frool)

writtenwyrdd said...

Which just brings up the often disregarded advice: Read and understand legal documents before you sign.

Thanks for sharing. Having only been minimally published, I haven't run into release forms as of yet.

Carolyn said...

Good advice, and I hope silently illustrative of why an author needs a good agent.

catdownunder said...

"Read and understand legal documents before you sign" is excellent advice - apart from the fact that the law seems to have unique ways of reading and understanding!

Isaac Espriu said...

Good advice, Jane.

Thanks :)

Glen Akin said...

Thanks for this great advice

David Dittell said...

catdownunder,

As primarily a screenwriter, I can tell you that understanding what you sign is indeed very important, no matter what the obstacles. It's not that difficult to find some lawyer or other professional who can pro bono look over your document for you, tell you what you're getting into, and suggest changes if necessary. The forms tend to be very standardized.

If you can't find someone who's just willing to help out, it's usually worth it to hire a lawyer to work at an hourly rate (or, if you're a writer, to hire a lawyer who takes a portion of your salary for his surfaces).

By signing something you don't understand, you put yourself in the position of giving away vital rights, promising things you can't deliver, or, in the film world, putting yourself in situations where an arbitrator could decide your name shouldn't be attached to your writing.

Dal Jeanis said...

In defense of WOTC, I can say that I know one of their authors -- J.M. McDermott, who wrote the acclaimed dark fantasy The Last Dragon -- and he was very satisfied with his association with them.

Well, while they were still publishing non-game-related materials...