For nearly 7 years, I've been writing for a group of websites that now belong to Viacom. I've loved writing for AfterElton.com and AfterEllen.com. But I won't be writing for them anymore, and you should know and care about the reason why.
I am a freelance writer and editor, by choice. I've been working in this field since 1991, and I'm very blessed to have been able to not only support myself as a writer, but to make a very good living doing something I truly love.
I've also been able to focus on subjects that really matter to me, mostly dogs, animal welfare, and veterinary medicine, but also LGBT equality and the relationship of political and social change with popular culture.
That last category is comprised of work I've done almost entirely for the AE/AE sites. I got my start there when AfterElton.com editor Michael Jensen and his partner, Brent Hartinger, came across a humorous post I wrote for this blog, "Ten Reasons Xena and Gabrielle Are Better Than Brian and Justin."
They'd been on the hunt, it seems, for funny lesbians who could write about television for a blog called The Big Gay Picture, at the time a partner site of AfterElton.com and AfterEllen.com. They invited me to guest blog for, I think, a month, and after that asked me to keep writing for them. That turned into gigs for AfterElton and AfterEllen, back in the day when I was, in fact, the only woman writing for the gay men's site.
I've loved working there -- although much less since so many of the people I worked with and for over the years left, particularly Michael who has become a close friend, but also Brent, Malinda Lo, and site founder Sarah Warn. But I still like and care about many of the writers there, and also many of the readers and community members.
However, under no circumstances would I agree to sign the obscene rights grab they call a "freelance contract," the language of which I've pasted below the cut.
In short, it claims ownership of all my notes, thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and works inspired by them, whether I write them down or not, whether they use them or not, literally "in perpetuity throughout the universe in all media and all forms and all formats, and/or any methods of delivery, in any and all media now existing or hereafter devised," as well as "irrevocably, exclusively and perpetually."
Now, you may not care that I won't be recapping Glee or writing anything else for the site anymore (although I do).But if you care about reading things people have written, and want artists, writers, and other creators to be able to make even a small living producing creative works, then you should care, and care a lot, about large corporations leveraging their publishing power to force their contributors to sign contracts like this.
As a freelance writer, rather than a staff writer who gets a salary and benefits, you simply cannot survive if every idea or note or thought you have about something you’re writing for a publisher belongs to them in every usage for all eternity. I routinely turn interviews into multiple articles, and go to conferences and write about what I saw or learned there, for multiple publications, sometimes for years afterward.
I blog — including here — about “outtakes” from my articles on AE/AE all the time. I also frequently come up with ideas while I’m writing articles, which I then turn into other articles. This is how I make my living. Without that freedom, without the ownership of my own thoughts, without the flexibility of the kind of freelance contracts I’ve been writing under now for my entire career -- including for other big corporate media platforms owned by Hearst -- I could never have made a life as a writer.
And young writers, who are forced to go along with these disgusting agreements because they need to be published and need the money, are going to be increasingly disempowered, robbed, violated, and marginalized.
Furthermore, established, proven writers and journalists, photographers and artists, will no longer write for sites like AE/AE, because we don’t have to sell our souls to pay the bills — and who would sell their soul if they didn’t have to?
All of which will have a profound chilling effect on the quality of the work you are going to be seeing out of any publication that forces its writers into these kinds of contracts.
You can read the contract under the cut. In the meantime, I'm really sad to be saying goodbye to a form of expression that meant a lot to me. Thanks for nothing, Viacom.
All services rendered by Artist pursuant to this Agreement and the results and proceeds thereof, including, without limitation, all literary, dramatic, factual, artistic, photographic, visual, sculptural, musical and/or other material of whatever kind or nature created (or to be created), written (or to be written), contributed (or to be contributed) or suggested by Artist hereunder, as well as all inventions, processes and improvements, and all versions and revisions thereof, and all notes, ideas, “gags,” suggestions, plots, characters, logos, titles, themes, songs, products and/or stories, whether or not reduced to writing or other tangible media, heretofore or hereafter created, written, contributed, developed, invented or suggested by Artist, and whether or not actually used by Company on or in connection with the Site (all such material, services, and the results and proceeds thereof are referred to collectively as the “Material”), have been and/or will be solely created by Artist as a “work made for hire” specially ordered or commissioned by Company for use as part of a collective work within the meaning of the U.S. Copyright Law, with Company being deemed the sole author, and, at all stages of completion, the sole and exclusive owner of the Material, and of all rights of every kind or nature, whether now known or hereafter devised (including, but not limited to, all copyrights, trademarks, patents and all extensions and renewals of same) in and to the Material in perpetuity and in all languages, with the right (as between Artist and Company) to use, exploit and advertise the Material and the Site, in any form, manner and/or medium, whether now known or hereafter devised, without any further obligation whatsoever to Artist or any person or entity claiming through or on behalf of Artist.
If, under any applicable law, the fact that the Material is a “work made for hire” is not effective to place authorship and ownership of the Material and the Site and all rights therein in Company, or in the event that it is determined that the Material or any part thereof does not constitute a “work made for hire” for Company within the meaning of the copyright laws of the United States, then to the fullest extent allowable and for the full term of protection otherwise accorded to Artist under such applicable law, Artist hereby assigns to Company irrevocably, exclusively and perpetually all rights of every kind in and to the Material and any and all of Artist’s right, title and interest in the Site and any other works now or hereafter created containing any of the Material.
Without in any way limiting the generality of the foregoing, Company shall have the right to make all known or hereafter existing uses of the Material in perpetuity throughout the universe in all media and all forms and all formats, and/or any methods of delivery, in any and all media now existing or hereafter devised, and all allied, ancillary and subsidiary rights in and to each of the foregoing, and the right to make all changes in the Material as Company deems necessary or desirable, including, but not limited to, the right to revise, change, modify, translate, reformat, reprocess, dramatize, fictionalize, add material to and/or remove material from the Material as Company shall, in its sole discretion, deem appropriate.
Without in any way limiting the generality of the foregoing, Company and Artist are aware and hereby acknowledge that new rights of and to the Material may come into being and/or be recognized in the future, under law and/or in equity (collectively the “New Exploitation Rights”), and Artist intends and does hereby assign, grant and convey to Company, any and all such New Exploitation Rights in and to such results and proceeds. Company and Artist also are aware and do hereby acknowledge that new (and/or changed) technology, uses, media, formats, modes of transmission, and methods of distribution, dissemination, exhibition or performance (collectively the “New Exploitation Methods”) are being and inevitably will continue to be developed in the future, which would offer new opportunities for exploiting the Material. Artist intends and does hereby assign, grant, and convey to Company any and all rights to such New Exploitation Methods with respect to such results and proceeds.
Artist represents and warrants that: (a) except for material Company provides to Artist for inclusion in the Site, the Material is or shall be either wholly original with Artist or Artist has the full right and authority to grant the rights in the Material hereby granted; (b) neither the Material nor Company’s use of the Material as contemplated by this Agreement will infringe or violate any rights of any person or entity, nor shall Company be required to pay or incur any sums to any person or entity as a result of Company’s ownership, acquisition, use, or exploitation of the Material, except as herein provided; (c) the Material is not and shall not be based in whole or in part on the life of any real person, except as approved in advance in writing by Company; (d) to the best of Artist’s knowledge in the exercise of reasonable prudence, the Material does not and shall not violate the right of privacy or publicity of, or constitute a libel or slander against, or otherwise violate any other rights of any kind or nature whatsoever of, any person or entity; and (e) the Material is not and shall not be the subject of any litigation or of any claim that might give rise to litigation. Company may freely assign or license this Agreement, and all of the rights granted by Artist hereunder, to any other person or entity without restriction. Artist may not assign this Agreement, and any attempt to do so shall be void ab initio.
Artist hereby irrevocably waives the benefits of any provision of law known as “droit moral,” “moral rights,” or any similar rights or principals of law in any country of the world which Artist may now or later have in the Material and/or Site, and Artist agrees not to institute or permit any action or lawsuit on the grounds that the Site, Material, or any other work based upon the Material constitutes an infringement of Artist’s droit moral or is in any way a defamation or mutilation of the Material or any part thereof, or contains unauthorized variations, alterations, modifications, changes, or translations of the Material. Artist expressly acknowledges that many parties will contribute to the Site and other works that may or will embody all or part of the Material. Accordingly, if under any applicable law the above waiver or assignment by Artist of “droit moral” or “moral rights” is not effective, then Artist agrees to exercise such rights in a manner which recognizes the contribution of, and will not have a material adverse effect upon, such other parties.