The SoA's quarterly journal
'There is hope. The EU is investigating creator contracts, and unfair terms and unfair pay will be the focus of the SoA’s campaigning over the next year.'
James McConnachie, Editor
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From the Editor
The David and Goliath story is usually remembered as the brave little chap taking on the big braggart. Occasionally, the relative status of the two contestants is recalled. David is a humble shepherd with a homemade slingshot, the text specifies, while Goliath is armed with an iron-tipped bronze javelin and wears a coat of bronze armour weighing 5,000 shekels. The imbalance is in their matériel as well as their size.
With that in mind, I observe that there is something of a David and Goliath theme in this Summer issue of The Author. The ‘tiny’ publisher Lynn Michell describes her unequal relationship with Amazon, a company she calls a ‘bad giant’. Duncan Lamont explains how new libel legislation now better armours little authors against crushing defamation lawsuits. Publisher José Borghino stands up to the bullying legislators who want to ‘modernise’ copyright, and the tech giants and copyleft zealots egging them on. Welsh author Catrin Collier takes a one-woman authorial stand on behalf of expert librarians. And we have a first-person report from the frontline of a particularly brutal battle: bestselling novelist Freya North takes on that cruel psychological bully, writer’s block.
Another inequality of size and resources – that between publisher and author – is touched on by Jonathan Derbyshire, who reports from the general election hustings organised by the SoA back in March. Is it fair, a Society member asked the gathered political representatives, that authors (and indeed all those who negotiate intellectual property contracts) are excluded from the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977? He said that if publicans could be protected when contracting with brewers – another ‘unfair negotiating environment’ – why couldn’t authors?
Chris Bryant, for Labour, replied that this is simply a risk that authors, as business people, have to take. Ed Vaizey, for the Conservatives, insisted similarly that authors are ‘free to contract with whoever they want’. Live by the pen, they might have said, die by the pen.
Yet, increasingly, many authors cannot live by the pen. As new ALCS research reveals, the median sum earned by authors in 2013 was only £4,000. Certainly, precious few authors are negotiating ‘freely’ when they deal with large publishing houses. Contracts are being drafted with scandalous terms – demanding, for instance, that we assign all or most rights for the whole life of copyright, with no opportunity for review, while the publisher commits only to limited obligations to exploit our work.
Most notoriously, authors are frequently forced to indemnify the publisher against claims of copyright infringement and libel, even though it makes far more sense for the publisher to be insured. I once questioned an indemnity clause on one of my own contracts, and was told that it was a condition of the publisher’s insurance that the author (me – a sole trader) indemnified the publisher (a large and profitable corporation with its own legal department). I wasn’t to worry, though; if I was sued I’d be covered by the publisher’s insurance. Could I have that in writing? Ah – no. Reader, I signed. Like so many authors, I felt I had no choice. There is hope. The EU is investigating creator contracts, and unfair terms and unfair pay will be the focus of the SoA’s campaigning over the next year. (The Society’s manifesto appears on p.43, and The Author will report in more detail over the next few issues.)
The SoA continues to fight for all us Davids. It is our 5,000-shekel armour and our iron-headed spear. Many authors are picking up the humble slingshot of self-publishing, of course, or considering it. But whether that equates to slaying the giant, David-like, with ‘disruptive technology’ or running away from him, I am not sure.
Worth fighting for
Copyright: fighting free José Borghino
The view from Westminster Jonathan Derbyshire
The SoA’s manifesto
Amazon: the bad giant Lynn Michell
Public and volunteer libraries Catrin Collier
Living with the Defamation Act 2013 Duncan Lamont
Memory and forgetting William Sutton
The ten rules of ancient authorship Peter Stothard
Writer’s block Freya North
A recipe for festivals Julian Baggini
Inward tastebuds Sophia Waugh
Dr Johnson’s summerhouse Shaun Traynor
Out and About: giving a reading Justina Hart
Grub Street Andrew Taylor
To the Editor
Endpaper Terence Blacker
Standing up to Giants
About The Author
The Author is an invaluable source of information, news and opinion for Members and Associates as well as for publishers, literary agents and other professionals working in the book industry. It has a circulation of approximately 9,200. Members and Associates receive The Author free of charge.
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