A new contracts study by the EU Policy Unit shows that authors in the UK are worse off than their counterparts elsewhere in the EU, the Society of Authors has said.
The study, "Contractual Arrangements Applicable to Creators: Law and Practice of Selected Member States", has recommended that contracts for writers and other copyright creators across EU member states be made fairer and future-proofed. But the SoA said the report showed the problem was particularly acute in the UK.
The EU study said that “European authors are in a difficult position” and that a “patchwork of national provisions also prejudices exploiters of copyright works due to the uncertainties they face in an industry that is becoming more and more global”.
Its recommendations included that contracts between authors and publishers should set out the exact scope of the rights being granted, with “minimal formalities” so that authors can give their "informed consent"; fair remuneration for authors; and that contracts should be limited in time to enable the author to renegotiate if business models or models of consumption change.
The report also recommended an economic study on the remuneration of authors be undertaken, “to better assess the economic situation of European creators and the link between the contracts they sign and their revenues”.
The SoA said the situation was worse in the UK because a number of protections offered in other countries and mentioned in the study were not available in this country. It pointed out that Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Spain have "bestseller" provisions in contracts, allowing authors to ask for a modification of their contracts if it becomes clear that the publisher has gained a disproportionate advantage. Belgium, France, Hungary, Poland and Spain also apply the “in dubio pro autore” principle, where contractual provisions are to be interpreted in favour of the author. Neither of these measures were available in the UK, the SoA said.
The SoA’s recommendations following the release of the study also include the extension of the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 to be extended to include intellectual property contracts, and the extension the Consumer Rights Bill to protect creators and others “who operate in an unfair negotiating environment”.
The author body said it would be contacting the Publishers Association, other publishers' representatives and individual publishers “with the aim of encouraging and assisting them to amend authors' contracts and the Publishers Association Code of Practice”.
Philip Pullman, president of the SoA, said: “It’s not always easy to see our way through the thickets of legal language that grow so vigorously around the commercial exploitation of our work, nor to know how our own position with regard to our rights compares with others.
“When a paper like this shows how much worse the position of authors is in the UK than in many other countries, we can only welcome it strongly, and urge publishers to comply with its recommendations.
“The essential point is that the balance of fairness has tilted the wrong way, and it’s often not only the work that’s being exploited – its creators are too.
“It’s time for that to stop, and for authors to be rewarded her as justly as they are elsewhere.”