Sunday, October 6, 2019

The War Against the Imagination Heats Up! (Part Two): Morals Clauses in Book Contracts

From the Authors Guild's 1-24-19 article entitled "Why We Oppose Morals Clauses in Book Contracts":

The Authors Guild objects to publishers’ new and increasing use of so-called “morals clauses.” These contract provisions allow publishers to terminate a book contract, and in many cases even require the author to repay portions of the advance already received, if the author is accused of immoral, illegal, or publicly condemned behavior. Publishers insist they need the clauses to protect themselves in the event an author’s reputation becomes so tarnished after the book contract is signed that it will hurt sales. But most of these clauses are too broad and allow a publisher to terminate based on individual accusations or the vague notion of “public condemnation”—which can occur all too easily in these days of viral social media.
The ambiguity and subjectivity of these clauses make them ripe for abuse. Publishers should not have the sole discretion to decide whether accusations are true. And, if the accusations are not true, they should not subject the author to termination. Publishing houses should perform due diligence and determine whether the book and its author fit their objectives before entering into agreements. Broad morals clauses give publishers yet another unfair way out of a contract when they decide they don’t want to publish a book for whatever reason.
The moral conduct of an author is not germane to the author’s fulfillment of obligations under the contract; nor should it be a basis for termination, much less returning the advance. The author’s side of the bargain is to deliver the book promised in a timely manner, not to uphold any unspecified standards of behavior.
What constitutes behavior “subject to widespread public condemnation,” “moral turpitude,” or similar terms used in these clauses varies widely and often has as much to do with a nation’s current sociopolitical climate as it does with ethics. As playwright Lillian Hellman notably wrote in response to a subpoena to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was investigating Communist infiltratration of Hollywood and other American institutions, “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”
To read the entire article, click HERE.

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