Earlier this month, the Seattle-Area startup Booktrope announced that they would be ceasing operations. The "Team-Publishing" company brought together authors, designers, marketers and more to create a publishing team that would reap the benefits of a work's potential success.
While we're sad to see Booktrope go, we here at Visual Quill have been working with a number of soon-to-be former Booktrope authors to get their books back on track for publication. One of the diciest issues is around who owns the rights to what work.
So to learn more about author's rights, we did what many authors do and spoke with a lawyer. Jason Cruz is an attorney in Seattle Washington, where he has a practice in Trademark and Copyrights including review of contracts for authors and he was gracious enough to answer our questions. We hope they can answer some of yours.
When a publisher closes its doors, what's the first thing an author should do to protect their rights?
The author should review the contracts or agreements they signed with the publisher. It's key to know if there is a successor organization and/or what happens if the company goes out of business. If it's not spelled out in the contract, the author should probably contact an attorney.
What can an author expect when they first contact an attorney?
It starts with a conversation about what the author wants. Attorneys help with everything from negotiating a contract to keeping your rights safe. The first conversation is always about what they need and my job is to make sure they're protected.
What sort of questions should an author have for their lawyer when they first meet?
An author should ask about the benefits of filing a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Although copyright coverage is automatic, there are benefits to filing.
What are the benefits to filing your copyright?
One big misconception is that you MUST file with the copyright office. You do not have to, but if you file with the copyright office you have evidence that you are the creator and a date when you filed. If, down the road, there are concerns over who owns the work, the author that filed has proof and can use the filing date as evidence of when they retained the right to their work.
As an aside, something that people used to do to avoid the filing fee was called a "Poor Man's Copyright." Basically, a person would mail the story or written work to themselves and use the U.S. Post Office postmark date as evidence of their copyright claim. It's a do-it-yourself way to establish a copyright but it's not as effective as filing with the copyright office.
With a Team Publishing model like Booktrope, rights and profit-sharing may be held by many different parties. Where should an author begin.
It starts with the agreement that the author signed, so look at that contract first. If the author didn't copyright their work, you can check with the copyright office to see if someone else has done so. And if there's any questions, you should contact a lawyer.
How much does it cost to hire a lawyer?
Different lawyers have different fees. It does cost some money, but working with a lawyer is an investment in your career. The protections and advice you get in the beginning will save you lots of pain, suffering, and expense down the road. If you haven't secured legal protection, you might get stuck in a position where you can't retain or obtain your rights. It's always good to at least get a consult to make sure your Is are dotted and Ts are crossed.
Jason Cruz is an attorney in Seattle, Washington where he has a practice in Trademark and Copyrights including review of contracts for authors. He will be presenting "Legal Issues for Writers" at the Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference in Seattle on July 29th. You can find him at CruzLawpllc.com or on Twitter @jasonCruzLaw.
Want to share? Here is a ready-made tweet:
Click to tweet: When a publisher closes its doors, what should an author do to protect their rights? http://bit.ly/1U4tmXo @VisualQuill