Bill of Rights for E-Book Authors

The Writers’ Union of Canada has released A Writer’s Bill of Rights for the Digital Age to benefit the creators of literary works in Canada:


Copyright legislation shall ensure the protection of intellectual property and appropriate compensation for rightsholders.


Exceptions to copyright shall be minimized.


The publisher shall split the net proceeds of ebook sales equally with the author.


The author shall retain all electronic rights not specifically granted to the publisher or producer and shall have approval of any modifications made to the work.


The publisher shall not exercise or sublicense ebook publishing rights without the express authorization of the author.


When a book is out of print in print form, continuing sales in electronic form shall not prevent a rights reversion to the author.


For ebooks, the publisher in its contract shall replace the traditional “out of print” clause that triggers a rights reversion with a sales volume clause (e.g., less than a specified quantity of ebooks sold in a specified number of royalty periods) and/or a finite term of license (e.g., five years).


When rights revert, the publisher shall provide the author with the digital file of the book.


The Public Lending Right Commission shall provide author payments for electronic books and allot additional monies to this end.


Libraries shall acquire digital copies of works in their collections only from rightsholders or their licensing agencies.


Ebook retailers shall require the rightsholder’s permission for any free preview or download of an electronic work, and the rightsholder shall specify the maximum amount to be made available.


Agents, publishers, aggregators, retailers, and libraries shall ensure that works in digital form will be well protected and will not be shared, traded, or sold outside the boundaries authorized by the contract.

Greg Hollingshead, chairman of the Writers’ Union of Canada, responds to questions about the bill of rights in an interview by the Edmonton Journal:

Q: Many writers seem content to leave matters of digital rights to their agents. Why is it important they are educated?

A: First, in Canada only about 20 per cent of writers have agents.

Second, we believe it’s always important for writers to understand what is, or is not, being done in their name. This is a transformative time in the industry, and it seems important to us that writers not allow the other players in the digital arena to decide what is best for them. There needs to be dialogue, and for this writers need to be informed, and as a union we need to have a clearly stated position, both for our members to consider and discuss and for ourselves to go with to publishers and government.

A post at Iguana Books offers rebuttal and comment, for example:

8. When rights revert, the publisher shall provide the author with the digital file of the book.

This is a can of worms. “The file” usually contains material that the author doesn’t have the copyright for – images, designs, text (such as the index) that other writers have prepared. What the writer actually needs is the file and the list of permissions associated with the publication, so that all other rightsholders can be compensated if their material is used in a new edition.

[Thanks to John Mansfield for the story.]