CONTRACTS OF THE DAMNED
Yesterday’s bloggy thing appeared on a commercial website recently.
I ordered the website to take it down for one simple reason: they
wouldn’t pay me the agreed-upon amount for the article unless and
until I signed the ridiculous contract they sent me AFTER the piece
was written and sent to them. I ran the article here yesterday to
establish my ownership of the piece and use it to discuss some of
the absurd contracts I’ve been offered in recent years.
Prior to writing the article, in my four decades as a professional
writer, I had written tens of thousands of things for dozens upon
dozens of clients. To me, freelance contracts should be as simple
as possible. All they really need to contain are:
What the client is buying.
What rights the client is buying.
What the client is paying for those rights.
The author’s pledge that the work is original and not plagiarized
from other works.
Depending on the work being done, other clauses might be necessary.
If it’s a major book or series, the client might want to have the
writer do publicity of one sort or another and the obligations of
the writer and the client might have to be established as part of
If royalties are involved, that should also be established in the
Things like rewrites, corrections, and other editorial matters are
other things that might need to be established in the contract, as
would the author’s rights in regard to the look of the work or how
it’s promoted or similar concerns.
That brings us up to two or three pages of contract. It’s been a
while since I signed any contracts from DC or Marvel Comics, but I
remember their work-for-hire contracts as being no more than one or
two pages. Short, simple, clear.
What the website asked me to sign for yesterday’s article was a 15-
page contract. It made my head spin.
There were clauses concerning their proprietary info...of which I
possessed none and of which I wished to possess none. It was just
a one-off assignment, not an ongoing relationship. All I knew from
the site was what I learned reading a few articles on it to gauge
their audience and style.
There were clauses that could have restricted my writing for other
websites. I have little interest in an exclusive contract with any
client, much less one that would make it a condition of payment for
already completed work and with no additional compensation for me.
Their contract also seemed to call for a complete list of my past
employers and works. As noted, I have been writing professionally
for four decades. It would take me a month to put together such a
list. Why would I do that for this or any client?
A phrase in one of my e-mail conversations with a representative of
the site kept coming back to me. It’s the one where someone tells
you that everybody signs this contract. Well, if everybody signs
the contract they sent me, every one of those “everybodies” is an
idiot of the highest magnitude.
This latest absurd contract is freshest in my thoughts, but I can
tell you about a couple others. Like the contract that read as if
I were contracting for the client’s services and not the other way
around. Or the one that would have held me financially responsible
for any screw-ups by anyone else working on the project. Or those
that didn’t specify deadlines, payment or payment schedules. I’m
not fond of contracts that essentially leave me at the mercy of a
client’s perhaps fleeting goodness of heart.
It’s always been my plan to keep writing until the day I die. More
than anything other than my wife and kids, writing is what I live
for. However, if these absurd one-sided contracts are now the norm
for freelance writers, I have to reconsider my desire to continue
writing comic books and other things. There needs to be a balance,
a fairness, to the agreements between clients and writers. Just as
there needs to be a balance, a fairness to the economic, political,
and social agreements that should be uniting those of us who live
in the United States instead of dividing us.
There’s an old song that claims what the world needs now is love,
sweet love, the only thing, intones the song, that there’s just too
little of it. To be sure, love is a wonderful thing. But, right
at the present moment, I’d settle for fairness.
© 2011 Tony Isabella