Do You Know How to Juggle … Contracts?

By Susan Spann

Last week, someone asked me if I'd ever written a post about the legalities of contracting with multiple publishers (or publishers and others) for various forms and formats of the same creative work. 

In simpler language: "What do I need to know before I license print rights to one publisher and then license audio, or translation, or film rights (to the same work) somewhere else?"

Today we're starting a discussion of that very topic. It's a complex one, so we'll come back to it for the next few months, at least.

I've mentioned before that "copyright" includes a bundle of different rights, including print, ebooks, translation to foreign languages, TV and film rights, audio rights, apps and gaming, braille, and many more. Until and unless an author licenses some or all of those rights, the author owns and can control them all.

Sometimes, a publisher wants to contract for more than one kind of rights. Some publishers take only one or two. We could write an entire book (and many blog posts) about the decision whether or not to license multiple rights at once--but for now, I want to focus on what happens when the author has the chance to split the rights among different publishers or companies.


The author needs to plan for multiple contracts from the very beginning--meaning BEFORE he or she even signs the first one.

Publishing contracts (and film, TV, app and gaming contracts also) always contain two clauses:

- A clause which states that the author cannot enter into any contract which would violate the terms of the contract (s)he is signing, AND

- A clause in which the author warrants (a fancy legal word for "promises") that the current contract doesn't violate the terms of any other existing contract or agreement involving the author and this work.

Do you see the issue?

If the author gives away too many rights in the first (or any other) contract, or doesn't make sure that each contract allows the author to dispose of the remaining rights in any way the author chooses, the author can end up trapped and unable to license additional rights, sometimes even if those rights weren't expressly included in the first contract.


Create a list (or a spreadsheet) containing all of the rights you might want to license. This might include:

Leave space so you can write in the name of the publisher (or company) to whom you license each set of rights.

In addition to keeping your publishers straight, this list becomes your "rights review checklist" every time you prepare to enter a contract. Make sure each contract names and licenses only the rights you want to license to the company in question. Be clear during negotiations: let the publisher know in advance that you're offering only certain rights, and that you intend to license and exploit your other rights in other ways.

You'll also need to ensure that each publishing language contains some important language protecting your rights ... but that's the topic of next month's #PubLaw post here at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog.

So tune in next month for the next installment!

In the meantime, if you have questions about this or other publishing legal issues, please feel free to ask in the comments! 


 Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author from Sacramento, California. Her debut mystery novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, July 2013), is the first in a series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. The sequel, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, will release on July 15, 2014. Susan blogs about writing, publishing law and seahorses at Find her on Twitter @SusanSpann or on Facebook.


Susan Spann
Susan Spann is a California publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, released on July 14, 2015. Susan is honored to be the 2015 RMFW Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her at her website, on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

One thought on “Do You Know How to Juggle … Contracts?

  1. This is definitely a problem we all hope to have one of these days. Thanks for the heads-up on what to watch for, Susan.

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