Moral Rights

On Sunday, Jim Gunn talked about an essay for an old SF collection and how one author wouldn’t sell his piece because he would have to waive moral rights. Jim seemed to think this was silly, to not sell a story over moral rights. Maybe he was talking about that particular case only, where the essay was written specifically for that anthology. Earlier last year, on my blogspot blog I wrote about CBC radio having a contest and taking all rights. Also checking out Radio One’s program “This I Believe” they said: By clicking on the “submit your essay” button below, you are transferring to CBC all rights, including copyright, in your essay and are waiving your moral rights in the essay. As owner of copyright CBC, and third parties authorized by CBC, will have the exclusive right to make unlimited use of all or part of the essay in any and all media in perpetuity worldwide.

CBC wasn’t paying for these pieces. “Fill our programming for us for free. After all, it is our national radio station.” By writing for CBC, you’re volunteering it to these programs. Yet, many artists donate or volunteer their works for a particular show or event or book. So what’s the difference between donating a piece, giving copyright for a specific time and waiving moral or all rights?

The owning of copyright is a complicated thing and there are lawyers and agents who specialize in the fine print. Basically, by transferring all rights it means that you can no longer use that piece of your writing in any way. You cannot send it to be published or shown anywhere else. You really can’t even ask permission since CBC now owns it completely. Take a person who sells a sculpture. Someone else owns the sculpture but the artist might still have prints or photos of the sculpture sold or put in books. In the case of writing, many writers make a living from reselling their pieces to different publications.

Although in most cases of publishing one sells specific rights (and often specific media rights such as electronic or print publication) for a limited time, there are cases where you sell all rights, which still does not include moral rights unless they say so. But should you sell a book to a publisher, the rights give that publisher the exclusive right to publish your book for a period of time, compensating you as is laid out in your contract. If you sell to a magazine, you are paid for the piece, by article, word count or column inches and can after a time, resell that piece to other publications. Greeting card companies do it as a matter of course because they want to own the slogan in perpetuity.

There are first world rights, English only rights, print only, first North American, electronic and a motley assortment of many other combinations, often with a nonexclusive right to put in a print anthology (if you sell a short story to a magazine), which only gives that publisher the first right to ask you if they can put it in but you have the right of refusal.

In most cases rights revert to authors as per the contract, and the majority of authors will not write something in which they do not retain rights. I have never sold anything where the rights did not revert to me. Exceptions are for anything you write while in the employ of a company. In that case, they own it but you can still get writing credit for it and have your moral rights.

Moral rights are the most important to keep and it’s shocking that CBC resorted to such tactics. Waiving moral rights means that a company/magazine/publisher can take your piece and alter it, making it unrecognizable, printing pieces out of context and otherwise changing your words, and you will have no recourse. If I was a painter and sold a painting of a house to someone and waived my moral rights, they could then paint in a dead dog and a person dismembering someone else and I could say nothing. I’m not sure but it’s possible moral rights might also mean your name is no longer attached to your work. In the above example you would probably be happy if they left your name off but anyone who takes your moral rights can destroy what you’ve created and say you made it.

Of all rights, moral rights are the most important and the most worrisome when a big corporation like CBC is asking for them. When moral rights go missing it’s immoral. Any artist, whether writer, painter or jeweler, as well as any person who appreciates any form of art should consider very carefully what it means when you sell all rights and waive your moral rights.

I, for one, could not morally let this happen. There is no reason that anyone would need moral rights if they’re above board. An awful lot of money would have to exchange hands for me to waive these rights. Whether you sell a story or a photograph, you have the right to keep your moral rights. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_right

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Filed under Culture, fantasy, Publishing, science fiction, Writing

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