Tuesday 3 December 2013

Online traps for unwary writers...

Imagine you're a writer or illustrator who one day hopes to be published. Yes, I know: most of you are, so it won't be hard to imagine. Or imagine you're already published, as many of you are.

Imagine that you've created a character, or a world, or whatever, and you're writing about it on your blog or wherever. Imagine you put some text or some pictures, sketches perhaps, on your Facebook page. People like them and give you lovely feedback. You develop the character (or whatever) and keep working at it, sometimes putting bits of material on Facebook.

And imagine you get a book deal out of it! YAY! Fabulous! Because that's what can sometimes happen through social media, isn't it? You put stuff out there and people see it and one thing leads to another and eventually, in your dreams and occasionally in reality, one thing leads to a publishing deal.

And maybe even a film deal.

Doubly yay with sparkly tassells and lots of fizz!

But, hang on. Who owns that content, those pictures, those snippets of text about your created world or characters? You do, don't you?

Really? As that article shows you, yes, but also no. You may "own" it, but Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Instagram/platformasyetnotinvented can use it for their own purposes. Because you said they could.

Now imagine something else. Imagine that the company wanting to offer you a publishing deal or a film deal for your story, with your fabulous illustration/character/world, discovers that you've put the image/whatever on Facebook. And they realise, because they know about silly things like the law, that now Facebook has the right, because you signed the Terms and Conditions giving them that right, to use your image/whatever as it wishes. And even to "transfer or sub-license its rights over a user’s content to another company or organisation if needed."

But you could remove the images/text, couldn't you? Delete the account. Well yes. But "Facebook’s license does not end upon the deactivation or deletion of a user’s account, content is only released from this license once all other users that have interacted with the content have also broken their ties with it (for example, a photo or video shared or tagged with a group of friends)."

If I were that publishing company or film company, I might think twice about offering you a deal. After all, Facebook has the rights to use your images so how can you sell the rights to me?

Not a pretty thought, is it?

Beware the internet, especially when bearing really, really long Terms and Conditions which you're not really going to read, because who does?


JO said...

Thank you for highlighting this, Nicola - do you know if the same applies to other sites where people post writing?

I heard of someone with an extract on authonomy, HarperCollins asked for a full MS then said it wasn't for them, and then asked someone else to write the same story with a different title. (A coincidence, they said).

It concerns me that so many writers share so much of their writing all over the internet - great
if you can get constructive feedback, but once your words are in the ether anyone can do anything with them.

Nicola Morgan said...

Jo, I think each platform or site would have different T&C. And each publisher would react differently. I feel that publishers will be more worried about things that have been shared on FB and Twitter because there's a theoretical (very skim but there all the same) possibility that eg an illustrator posts a character drawing and then a publisher gives a deal for the picture book, and then FB uses the image in something, damaging the publisher/illustrator's ownership of the image. The chances are tiny but the consequences major.

Alison Morton said...

Agree with you, Nicola. I'm happy with my book covers or my own photos appearing on FB or Twitter, but the only writing has been out there are short extracts *after* I had published the books. These extracts are well within the samples people can download from sites like Amazon.

Do you think self-publishers are vulnerable in the same way, if they are hoping to attract a mainstream deal?

Nicola Morgan said...

Alison, apologies for not making it clear but you've missed my point, I think! First, absolutely this applies to self-published writers. There is no distinction - this is about the material, not the writer. I'm sure you already know that once it's published (ie made available to the public to read), it's published, and that that can get in the way of a publishing deal (though not always). Second, it's not about the length of the extract or whether it would also be available in a free sample.

The point is the right to use the material, claimed by the T&C of these sites, and how that might theoretically (and, actually, this isn't just theoretical, I'm afraid) jeopardise a future publishing or film deal.

Anyway, my point is aimed at people wanting a publishing deal (whether previously self-published or not) , plus those then moving to a film deal. Thanks for your comment, as I'm pleased to be able to make that clear.

M Louise Kelly said...

Wow. Very sobering! Thanks for the tip off.

Anonymous said...

"Beware the internet, especially when bearing really, really long Terms and Conditions which you're not really going to read, because who does?"

My husband does.
I never realised how many things come with insanely long terms and conditions until I married him.

Hence no Facebook, no Twitter, no whatever-it-is-they-invented-five-minutes-ago-that's-suddenly-all-the-rage...

In any case, by the time you've finished reading the terms and conditions, the world has moved on!