Vroom! Viacom (& Simon & Schuster) vacuums up more rights

Today’s news marks a troubling grab for content rights in the book world — by one of the biggest players.

New book contracts from Simon & Schuster (a Viacom company) now stipulate that once an author sells book rights to Simon & Schuster (S&S), the rights are theirs forever – until the copyright runs out. Even if S&S lets the book go out of print. Even if they refuse to print and sell it.

Background: Authors own their writing. When they sell a book to a publisher, they sell only the rights to print and distribute that book. They own the copyright; they basically lease the printing and publishing rights to the publisher. When demand diminishes and a publisher does not reprint or supply copies to bookstores, the book goes out of print and the author gets the rights back. The authors can then sell it to another publisher or print it themselves. Let the free market rule! Let authors control their work.

But not if Simon & Schuster (S&S) has its way!

S&S claims that as long as they have the ability to make a digital copy of a book available to a potential buyer, the book rights stay with them, even if the book is nowhere available in physical form any more.

Why would S&S not want to sell books if there was demand? Cause there is not ENOUGH demand to justify the costs of printing. Why the hell does Amazon do such a big business in used copies of out-of-print books? There are TONS of titles people want that are just too expensive for big publishers to keep in print. But smaller publishers, with smaller overhead, can do just fine with them. They can work on a smaller profit margin.

Authors are freaking. They are ENRAGED. Agents are freaking. Less money for them! Lots o’ insidery coverage in
Galley Cat and Jim Milliot’s excellent summary in Publishers Weekly’s daily feed for the interested.

S&S is part of Viacom, one of the DUMBEST media groups out there when it comes to dealing with new technology. Witness their suit against Google/YouTube. They pulled all their MTV, Nickelodeon, etc. content off YouTube – even stuff they didn’t really own! They sued for copyright infringement — even tho’ the YouTube clips were basically free advertising.

Viacom seems stuck in one model and one model only: it’s MINE. i OWN it. TOTAL CONTROL.

Rather than use new technology in innovative ways, Viacom uses it to reinforce restrictive, rigid, old-model ways.

And I see this as a very, very bad thing for book publishing.

Viacom would have the power to keep authors’ books unavailable basically forever if Viacom deemed them unpopular or unprofitable. Based on greed, that’s capitalism. Were it based on politics, that’d be scary.

The possession of total control is easily subject to abuse of that control.

Decentralized, clearly limited authority – to publish, to print, to communicate ideas widely – is a very good thing for the free thought. And free markets.

And freedom, in general.

Taking more rights from creators and awarding them to corporations just isn’t a good thing. And it’s happening more and more, in ways both subtle and gross, both widely reported (Viacom v Google) and underreported (S&S v Authors Guild).

Keep your eyes open people. Watch the rights dissappear.


One thought on “Vroom! Viacom (& Simon & Schuster) vacuums up more rights

  1. Pingback: Vroom! Viacom (& Simon & Schuster) vacuums up more rights « palimpsest nyc « Towards the Knowledge Society

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