Joseph Perry, Esq.
Tips on Negotiating Grant of Rights Clauses In Author Agreements
Usually the first provision you will see in a book publishing agreement will be the grant of rights section. A sample clause states the following:
“The Author hereby grants to the Publisher the full and exclusive right, throughout the World, during the term of copyright in the U.S. and elsewhere, to publish or cause others to publish the Work in all languages and in all formats and media now known or to be invented, in its entirety or separate chapters.”
There are a few items to pay attention to in this clause. The first is that the Author grants to the Publisher an exclusive right to publish his or her Work. Licenses can be either exclusive or non-exclusive. An exclusive license means that the licensee (here, the publisher) is the only one that will publish the work, whereas non-exclusive licenses mean several publishers can publish the work. Note that many publishing agreements may state that the author doesn’t grant a license, but assigns the publisher the rights to publish the work. If you assign your rights, you will no longer be in control of your work, so be sure to grant the rights rather than assign them. A caveat to the previous sentence is if you’re an academic author. Many professors publish for tenure purposes, so assigning their rights may not be such a big deal to them. Rather, their goal is to obtain publication by the most prestigious academic presses. Context matters.
The second item to notice is the territory (where the language says “throughout the World” and “in all languages”). The provision here is granting the publisher to publish the book globally. However, keep in mind that there are different types of territories:
1. North American English-language rights
2. English language rights in the remainder of the world (UK, Australia, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, sometimes India, etc.).
3. All territories outside 1 and 2 and obviously all languages other than English.
To determine what type is best suited for you, it all depends on your book. If your agent has contacts throughout the world (or you think you can sell your book in multiple territories), you may only want to grant the publisher North American English-language rights.
The third item to think about is the term. The license is for the term of the copyright in the US and throughout the world. A copyright in the US lasts for an author’s lifetime plus 70 years. However, do not worry. There are other provisions in the agreement (e.g., out of print clauses) that will prevent your book from being tied to the publisher seemingly forever.
The fourth item to notice in this provision is what rights you are actually granting. Here the author has granted to the publisher the right to publish the work in all languages, in all formats no known or to be invented, in its entirety or in separate chapter. Publishers usually have the catchall phrases “in all formats now known or hereafter,” so they can make sure they have the right to new technology not yet invented.
This last item is what I colloquially call “primary” rights (i.e., the right to publish your book), as other rights granted in the contract, such as audiobooks, book club, and performance rights, for example, are generally referred to as “subsidiary rights.”
Finally, you should note that the provision does not include language that reserves rights that aren’t granted in the agreement to the author, so make sure to have your lawyer or agent insert that language.