A Typical Publishing Agreement is Taking Away Almost All Rights of the Author

Recently I have received an offer to write a undergraduate textbook from a major publisher in science. The proposed book is based on my lecture notes that I wrote and improved over many years to teach an optimization course at ETH Zurich. The editor of the publisher who dealt with my proposal is a very polite and capable person with a mathematics degree. He obtained three evaluations of my proposal, two of which are serious, full of good comments and strongly positive on the publication. Everything went smoothly until I received the first draft of publication agreement from the publisher.

Here is the draft of publishing agreement. As anyone can see, it mainly claims and protects the publisher's rights with so many clauses and a few convoluted sentences.

See, in particular, Clause 1.2 "Author hereby grants and assigns to Publisher the exclusive, sole, permanent, world-wide, transferable, sub-licensable and unlimited right to reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, make available or otherwise communicate to the public, translate, publicly perform, archive, store, lease or lend and sell the Work or parts thereof individually or together with other works in any language, in all revisions and versions (including softcover, book club and collected editions, anthologies, advance printing, reprints or print to order, microfilm editions, audiograms and videograms), in all forms and media of expression including in electronic form ..."

One has to be terribly patient to read through this long (and ill-structured) document. Once you go through the document, you will realize how little the author's rights are stated. For example, there is nothing written about the publisher's responsibility in case of the publisher's failure to fulfil its promise. There are many punishments for the author in the reverse situation.

The editor tried to convince me to sign the agreement by writing "the contract is completely standard and the same as the one signed by thousands of authors every year."

Not having been convinced by the editor, I sent him a revision request on the agreement with a few comments. His response took over four months.

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Last updated: May 11, 2019