Legal Question in Intellectual Property in Georgia

An email I received yesterday from a publisher who I signed with 10 years has got me searching the 'net for some answers.

First a little background so that my questions are in context. 10 years ago I signed a contract with Publish America to publish my book. Of course I have since learned that what they're all about is selling you promotional packages for your book, selling "opportunities" to market your book, making you pay if you need the slightest thing changed about your book, et cetera. Probably the easiest way to illustrate this is to point you to their own website where they sell these "services" in a catalog format, or you can just Google "Publish America scam" or "complaints against Publish America" and get more information. http://www.publishamerica.net/service/

The email I was sent is below (identifying info removed.)

"Dear [NAME]:

Your book [TITLE], has shown no sales for longer than a year.

At this time you may want to have your book's publishing rights reverted back to you.

We can arrange that.

Go to http://www.publishamerica.net/service/term-rights.html and instruct us to return the rights to you. In the Ordering Instructions box, write your name and the title of your book. You will receive the termination documents by mail. There are no strings attached to this termination except the $149 processing fee that covers our administration costs and our de-listing obligations to vendors and/or wholesalers. You must choose a shipping option to activate your rights return instruction.

Thank you for having been a PublishAmerica author, or for sticking around if that's what you prefer!

PublishAmerica Support

http://publishamerica.com/support/"

I know I was incredibly stupid at the time to sign the contract, even though I did have (an apparently crappy) attorney look at it first. I wrote off the book long ago as a bad judgement call on my part, however this email, even though I know it's just a moneygrab, made me curious enough to dig out my old contract and look at it again. The wording implies that they have the rights to my book for the entire copyright period, which I believe is longer than my life. Again, I can forget about recovering the one book if I have to, but what I didn't remember was the clause in the contract that specifies that the publisher gets "first rights of refusal" on the next book.

Now, I don't have a next book. I lost it in a computer meltdown a long time ago and never bothered again, but that clause is bothering me since I may be looking at trying to get into some creative opportunities in the future.

What I am trying to discover is basically what this "first rights of refusal" means. I've been checking other boards more closely related to the topic but they haven't seen new posts in awhile. From what I've read of the old posts, some think it means that this publisher gets dibs on the next book no matter what, others say I'd just have to submit it to them and then refuse whatever is offered. Still others say I can demand something outrageous or submit fluff that would then force them to refuse. I would prefer to just never deal with these slime balls again even if it means my first book is the sacrifice.

I suppose the exact wording of this portion of the contract would be helpful.

"28. The Author grants and assigns to the Publisher the exclusive right to publish or first refuse Author's first next work under terms to be determined through good faith negotiations that will take place within a reasonable period of time after the Author has submitted for consideration his first next work to the Publisher."

I am aware that's pretty vague. The entire contract is like that. What I want is to wash my hands of this company and not have to worry about them trying to lay claim to any future works. I am not sure that taking their buyout offer would accomplish this. If not it would be a waste of money.

Thank you for reading.

Asked on 11/14/12, 11:45 am

1 Answer from Attorneys

Glen Ashman Ashman Law Office
0 users found helpful
0 attorneys agreed

The online publishers are mostly scams to take your money. Why would you send them money to lose your rights to future works? Real publishers pay you, not charge you.

You may want to sit down with an attorney with your first contract to know what rights you previously signed away.

Read more
11/14/12, 12:12 pm

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