Role of a literary agent in rights management

Lalitha Ravindran of First Forays Literary Agent shares why it is important for an author to hire a literary agent.

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Many writers who reach out to me express a desire to live off their writings. But unless such ‘intellectual property’ is recognized as owned by a person and paid for use, it could just remain a dream. While some form of IP rights has been around in India, the copyright of the written word was somewhat fuzzy and plagiarism was difficult to prove and win in a court of law.

When a publisher signs a book contract with an author what exactly are they seeking/buying? It isn’t a blanket right to do what they please and when, but contracts specify as clearly as possible what rights are ‘granted’. In what form can they be used and where? How third party references are quoted and prior permission required from the author/s and so on.

These and many other aspects of copyright and ‘grant of rights’ confuse most authors, not conversant with the legalese of such contracts and need a trust worthy ally to let them know what is alright and what needs further clarity. Plus there is the primary and secondary rights that an author needs to be aware of.

How do literary agents manage these rights?

1. Agents, when initially reviewing manuscripts can identify if there are references and quotations from other books or person and make sure the permissions to use them in this book are obtained as proof of consent. In today’s digital world, tracing the sources is easy and hence having the proper rights to utilize them is important to avoid legal issues later.

2. Experienced agents are able to gauge the extend of the rights granted to publisher in a book contract. What are the territories covered (e.g. India, South Asia, global), for how long (a decade or for perpetuity), in what mediums (print, ebook/kindle, audiobooks), how many languages (English and all Indian languages or just specific languages) and so on.

3. In today’s times, cinematography/adaptation rights are huge and need to be carefully reviewed and negotiated. The demand for content or stories to be adapted to some form of screen (television, digital, cinema) or platforms (streaming vs cinema halls) has soared. This requires careful evaluation as this could involve lot more money from the sale of rights.

4. When is it okay to hold subsidiary rights and when is it better to grant it to the publishers? What is a fair ratio of sharing such proceeds? These are negotiable in many cases and must be negotiated.

5. What are the mechanisms involved in claiming back rights not utilized by the publisher and/or reservation of rights that are not specifically stated in a contract?

6. Contracts also state how the book can be promoted, through print and electronic media, which need to be evaluated carefully.

With rapid technological changes and growing types of publishing, books and it’s forms and uses are expanding. Contracts are becoming complex and diverse. Authors can’t do it alone and hence having a LitAgent is invaluable in managing these and a lot more in the career of a writer.

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