On April 26, I attended a forum discussing the rights of creators over their work, organized by Adam David. I was part of a panel that discussed copyright and contracts for writers, and I shared my thoughts on what has become a recent discovery and now a bit of a cause: that many young writers are signing contracts turning over copyright and all rights of their original, unsolicited, not-work-for-hire stories, without understanding what that means.
Before I go on further, let me just say: I don't think that selling copyright is necessarily wrong. I've been hired to write things before, and been asked to turn over copyright, and I've agreed to that. What I think is wrong is when a writer does it not knowing what it means, and not having it explained fully to them even when they ask.
Other people who spoke at the forum: Honeylein de Peralta (from Flipside, a publisher), Beverly Siy (author and formerly of the Philippine Copyright and Licensing Society), and Marnie Tonson, Esq (a lawyer, and haha).
Some things I learned, which apply to me as an author:
- I need to determine who my heir is, in terms of my copyright. My heir will be receiving my royalties for up to 50 years after I've passed away. (My husband.)
- I also need to identify a second heir, younger than the first one. (Because 50 years is a long time and my royalties could outlast even the heir I select.) (My daughter.)
- I should also identify who should manage my copyright while I am alive, but unable to decide on important things. (My daughter.)
- I have foreign rights to most of my books. Meaning they can be made available in translations for other countries, just like foreign books are being brought and translated here. I think I should maximize this right that I hold.
- Piracy or unauthorized distribution of copies of my books -- that's an act against me, the copyright holder, because this kind of distribution affects my right to earn from the stories. (I am not opposed to free distribution: my goal has always been to be read by as many people as possible. But earning from my books through an unauthorized sales channel? Ugh!)
- Even if I was paid to write something, I still by default have copyright over it, unless I agree to turn it over. Being paid for the time I spend writing is different from paying for the rights to what I wrote.
- In cases of contract dispute, the law may actually side with the person who did not write the contract.
- Be wary of publishing contracts...even if the publisher is your friend. Or your relative. (advice of Bebang Siy)
- Don't sign anything you don't understand.
- I should also ask an independent and objective third party my questions about the details of the contract, and not just the ones who wrote it.
At the end of my talk, I said, we need to come up with a better solution. We can't just tell writers "don't sign this, it's not fair to you as an author" when we can't provide an alternative that's better, when the consequence of standing up for their rights means they don't get published at all. Yes, there are publishers that offer relatively "nicer" contracts, but they can't possibly publish everybody. And I don't think we should go about telling businesses to change how they do things either.
So what do we do? Ah, that's the question. Some people are coming up with ways to educate young people (and older people even) on copyright and other rights better. There's a government unit (Bureau of Copyright and Other Rights) that can help. I have the Wattpad advice column up, and continue to answer questions there. But as I told the community of authors there, they have to take the lead. They have to want better treatment. They have to decide to care about this, and each other, and make sure that fellow authors (their FRIENDS!) are not being unfairly treated. I'm willing to speak and help, as well as other people in the industry.
(I also must say that I am a self-publisher, and through my company Bronze Age Media I help people self-publish and keep copyright while seeing their book in print. But I also know that not everyone wants to go with this option.)
I wonder if someone can recap Bebang's portion of the talk? Because she said so many quoteworthy things. One of them that stuck to me and I hope I got this right -- "Yung pagnakaw mo sa copyright ko, yung anak ko yung ninakawan mo ng 50 years." My flimsy translation: Any violation of my copyright, or taking it from me without me knowing what that means, isn't just an act against me, but against what my child is entitled to for fifty years.
Maybe some writers will think that's overly dramatic. But I'm a mom now, and anything I do is for my daughter. If I benefit from this writing thing at all, I want it to go to making sure she's provided for. Do you have to be a mom to understand? I don't think so... you just need to think ahead and be confident that your work is worth it.
More advice for authors here, in Filipino and English: