Stolen Rights: Are you one of more than a hundred victims?

June 25, 2013

Writers often get their panties all in a knot about pirates stealing their work. I’m not going to get into the debate about whether book jacking helps or hurts right now. However, I am going to describe another type of rights theft that’s, in my opinion, much more serious and more commonly tolerated.

Way back in 2007, I sold a flash fiction piece to a very large anthology. The pay was low, but it was for non-exclusive print rights and (I thought) good exposure, so I accepted the terms as did 109 others.

I was dismayed to discover that the anthology included no biographical information for its authors and, in fact, only listed them by first name. So much for exposure.

Flash forward to 2012. Through someone’s post about another book, I discovered the anthology that includes my story at the top of the Amazon rankings for erotica EBOOKS. The original agreement did not include any electronic rights.

I immediately wrote the editor and demanded my story be removed or I receive compensation for sales of the book in electronic form.

After a series of e-mail negotiations, I agreed to allow the continued use of my story for a percentage of the royalties. I was very specific that I would not allow royalties to be determined based on “net” unless that term was defined. I received a small check and inferred (possibly incorrectly I now believe) from the correspondence that other authors also received compensation.

Imagine my surprise a year later when I get (one month late) an accounting indicating that the book was now “in the black” and that royalties were due, but because I had already received payment (for royalties up through December 2011) I would not receive additional compensation for sales from January 2012 through December 2012.

Remember, I got the term “net” struck from the agreement. Royalties were due on all sales.

After insisting that I receive the compensation which the publisher had agreed to pay, I was told that my story would be removed from the collection and I would receive what is essentially a go-away-and-don’t-bother-us-anymore kill fee.

Now, given that I get no additional exposure from this collection, given that I have since sold the same story to two other collections and that I also have it for sale (with all of my backlist) on Smashwords, given the size of the royalty payments, I gladly accepted the cheque.

But, I have to wonder if any of the other authors included in the book received royalty payments for the electronic rights that were stolen from them. I also have to wonder how much more money the book is earning than is being reported (late) to me and to any other authors who insisted on being paid for their rights.

This is why I publish most of my work myself. Too many publishers steal rights and don’t honor the terms of the contracts they sign.

If any other writer is curious whether their work might be included in this collection, feel free to contact me privately for the name of it. I prefer not to give the collection any publicity by including the name here. (And, needless to say, I waited until the cheque had cleared before sharing this information at all.)