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Higgins
04-16-2008, 09:25 PM
I've been reading some contracts. For a friend. They specify that the work is being done "for hire" and that the writer gets no rights at all to any of the material -- whether it is used or not (!what?!) EVER.

But the writer gets royalties.

This just seems very weird to me. Is it common?

What do non-"For Hire" contracts say? About rights and such?

IceCreamEmpress
04-16-2008, 09:50 PM
Yep, that's perfectly standard in a work-for-hire contract.

See, they're mostly based on the contracts created for the authors who worked on series books like the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books; the idea is that the core intellectual property belongs to the series, so that if the writer developed a book around that intellectual property, it really belongs to the series--even if the series doesn't choose to publish it.

I mean, think about it. If I got a contract for a "Star Trek" book (I wish!) and it wound up not being published by the folks who own the rights, then even if I changed the names and details of the main characters, the "Star Trek" universe would have played a huge role in my work, so it wouldn't really be appropriate for me to claim this as an original work of fiction.

PLEASE tell your friend to negotiate a kill fee if at all possible, though. I speak from rueful experience :(

Higgins
04-16-2008, 09:52 PM
Yep, that's perfectly standard in a work-for-hire contract.

See, they're mostly based on the contracts created for the authors who worked on series books like the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books; the idea is that the core intellectual property belongs to the series, so that if the writer developed a book around that intellectual property, it really belongs to the series--even if the series doesn't choose to publish it.

I mean, think about it. If I got a contract for a "Star Trek" book (I wish!) and it wound up not being published by the folks who own the rights, then even if I changed the names and details of the main characters, the "Star Trek" universe would have played a huge role in my work, so it wouldn't really be appropriate for me to claim this as an original work of fiction.

PLEASE tell your friend to negotiate a kill fee if at all possible, though. I speak from rueful experience :(

Cool! What is a kill fee? Is it what is paid if they cancel your project?

aka eraser
04-16-2008, 10:49 PM
Cool! What is a kill fee? Is it what is paid if they cancel your project?

Yep.

Unfortunately, series like the Hardy Boys and Star Trek aren't the only places where work-for-hire contracts appear. Many newspapers, magazines and websites are now asking for (demanding) all rights, often in exchange for a pittance. It's a career-limiting, if not profession-killing trend. Fight it. Don't work for them, unless they ARE treating you like a valued employee - paying fair wages and benefits in exchange for the rights grab.

Richard White
04-16-2008, 11:36 PM
I've run into work for hire in two areas: Media tie-in and ghostwriting

Media tie-in work falls into two areas: novelizations and then original work.

Ghostwriting (in my experience) is for ongoing series, usually where the original author has died/retired, so they hire people to write under the original author's name to keep the series going. In some of these cases, the author's name is almost as important as the series name. Keith Roberson with "Doc Savage", Franklin Dixon for "The Hardy Boys", Don Pendleton for "Mack Bolan - "The Executioner" and so on.

Playing in someone else's sandbox, as I call it, takes a certain mindset. You have to almost be a chameleon, fitting your writing style and tastes into the framework of the franchise you're writing for. Your work lives or dies with the licensing department though. Even if you love it, the editor loves it and the publisher loves it, if the owner doesn't love it, it doesn't go to print. You definitely want to have a kill fee in the contract . . . just in case. (I've gotten one kill fee, but that was an issue with the publisher, not the licensor who seemed to like my stuff.)

It can be a lot of fun. I've had the opportunity to write some Star Trek, some Doctor Who, the Incredible Hulk and I novelized the Gauntlet: Dark Fantasy video game. It can also be a pain in the neck trying to get voices and mannerisms off of the screen and into the written word.

(It's also a tax-deductible reason to buy DVDs also. It's research. *grin*)

KTC
04-17-2008, 03:26 PM
In 1979 the average Canadian writer received 25,000 a year.
In 2005 the average Canadian writer received 25,000 a year.
In 2006 the average Canadian writer received 24,000 a year.

(or something close to those figures. I may be off by a 1,000.)

Big newspapers and magazines are doing this for hire thingy. Moral rights to your work. This means they can use it any way they wish after you sign over these rights. It can appear re-written as an advertorial if they wish. Some times a writer will want to write an article on such and such and hope to write a similar article for another publication on the same such and such. Be careful reading your contracts... some will say that you are not even allowed to write on the same subject... in a roundabout way. If you sign over your moral rights to a newspaper article or magazine article, be aware of what this means. Remember this: WRITERS CAN SAY NO. Lots of them don't even attempt to renegotiate a suggested contract.

Claudia Gray
04-17-2008, 06:24 PM
I've done work-for-hire, but it was always ghostwriting or similar work in other universes. For those purposes, it didn't bother me; I was working for Disney, so it's not as though I owned/had any other interest in the characters and worlds involved, and the payment was entirely fair. For freelancing, I'd be much warier.