As writers, you can’t wait to get your work out there. You’ve done your hours, creating mindmaps on restaurant napkins, purchasing legal pads from the local dollar shop over last minute inspirations, and have added so many other chapters after your umpteenth edit. Now, all you need is to make money to continue your dream career, right?
The job’s simple – sell your books, get reviews, and write some more to become famous – but there’s a trick to the industry: everyone else wants that, and what’s worse is they don’t really want to work for it. So, these people – usually from another country or next door, typically none in between – ignores your copyright page, and resells your work as their own. Of course, plaigiarism is illegal, and people who get caught are punished by law. But, sometimes, people do get away with the most extraordinary things. Because of it, Sherlock Holmes – fictional character written in the Victorian era – is still a copyrighted character, Steamboat Willie – an animated short film from 1928 – won’t be public domain until 2024, and European books and characters are almost untouchable to reuse.
Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg, as of March 2019, made it mandatory to register all copyrights to be admitted in court (read more). Prior to this, non-registered copyrights, so as long as they were in their proper format, were passable for protection. But, of course, society changes, and so do the rules. Needless to say, intellectual property has raised its value to the nines!
Yet, people continue to write, people continue to publish, and people don’t bother with keeping the value of their stories intact. Some people might care, others may just have no reason to worry. Who knows?
For the rest of us, though, the answer is simply to copyright. The perk? Once you’ve enjoyed it’s world Premiere, you can put it out in the market to be bought, and enjoy making money without the worry of infringement anymore. Gone will be the days of court battles and property theft, and greet the new word that has made every author famous on the big screen and supermarkets worldwide: licensing.
Licensing is the business of selling your copyright, trademark, and/or patent to a company for distribution. These distributions could be action figures, cereal brands, clothing, and the list goes on. It’s one of the most profitable businesses in the entertainment industry!
The strategy in the business of licensing though is knowing how the money works. Many of your contracts will deal with this issue: royalty, gross earnings, creative rights, agency fees, etc. This is where Authors make or break it. This is how Authors really grow. If you’re too stuck on being a good writer, and not allow yourself to finish your work, then this prize of negotiating your market value goes out the window.
The most famous case pertaining to bad decisions in contract negotiations is with George Lucas. When he got the deal with Kenner to sign a contract to give the rights to build and sell the Star Wars toy collection, he agreed to a yearly earning of $100,000. Not realizing the worth of his films, he lost the chance at getting a hire percentage from the $2,000,000 gross revenue each film made on their release. Lucas has regretted that deal since (read more). It’s an important lesson to be learned, as he was not the only one that had these types of misfortunes. Hundreds of deals had gone sour due to lack of trust in the value of one’s work, and lack of knowledge in how contracts function.
And trying to summarize it in an article won’t be able to cover even the introduction of that business. People get lawyers, they travel for Agents, and sometimes go to school for it. We encourage you to check our Goodreads reviews for valuable recommendations:
A fine example of people we can all learn from is an Authoress named P. L. Travers, who was famously known for her books series, starring the magical nanny, Mary Poppins. Her book was world renowned, and when Walt Disney sent her the contract to deliberately change everything about her book, she traveled to the U.S. with contract-unsigned, to educate the screenwriters and lyricists about the lifestyle of the Banks family. She helped build the understanding of the British culture in the Edwardian period, and deeply expressed the diction necessary for a believable Governess. As accurate as Disney could’ve made the film to the book, the transition between the two media, and their audience’s difference took precedence. As charming as Saving Mr. Banks was, the movie based on this copyright battle, the reality was much dryer, but just as important to take note: money is flexible, but no matter what, the copyright owner pulls all the strings.
So don’t sign if you’re not happy with the contract, and study the worth of your work before letting someone else damage what you’re owed. Money seems petty, when dealing with principles, but when it deters you from having the life you deserved, then you’ve not only abused your art for its true value, but also yourself for not allowing your value to be respected as an artist, a professional, and, if I dare say, an honorable member of society.
Your work has value. It can raise, depending on your strategy, or disappear if you’re not careful. But, one thing is certain, if you’re not profiting from what should be your business, then someone else is. Best them to the punch, don’t let anyone steal your work, and fight for that value. Your art is worth every bit of your blood and sweat, and it’s about time you show it.