1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Morality Clauses in Publishing Contracts

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Garren Jacobsen, May 16, 2019.

  1. Authors, I just came back from a lunch event wherein I learned about morality clauses in entertainment contracts, publishing contracts were brought up a few times.

    So, for those who have been published or help publish or whatever, have you ever had to deal with these morality clauses? Have you tried to fight them?

    And, more generally, what does everyone think of the idea of morality clauses in publishing contracts?
     
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,389
    2,963
    313
    What kind of things would be required in a morality clause? It sounds like a pretty broad subject.
     
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,046
    3,431
    413
    I've seen them used by Christian publishers. Apparently they're becoming more common with other publishers. Usually they're clauses that address anything the author might do to bring public scorn or shame and thereby damage the publisher by association. And yes, they can be quite broad.
     
    Rkcapps likes this.
  4. Like Steerpike said, these things could be very broad and very general. Or they could be as limited to being convicted or admitting to felonies involving moral turpitude.

    They have an interesting history in US Contract Law history, beginning in the 1920s due to a scandal involving a comedian, drugs, booze, murder, and other icky things happening in the dude's hotel room. Babe Ruth was once the subject of a morality clause that included no booze.

    My issue isn't with the idea of a clause like this but in the actual wording. The more specific and definite the clause, the easier it is for me to swallow.
     
  5. Rkcapps

    Rkcapps Sage

    347
    150
    43
    Sounds like a fair ask from publishers. I'm curious what the wording would be. I wonder if agent's will have them too? My last agents didn't.
     
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    5,250
    3,311
    313
    I would ask for a clause that required the publisher not to do anything as a corporation that would be immoral or reflect badly upon my own reputation. Then I'd sign.
     
    Rkcapps and Demesnedenoir like this.
  7. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

    1,890
    1,083
    163
    The “show me the money” clause if the company humiliates you, heh heh.

    Morality clauses... there are sneakier and more nefarious clauses that can go into contracts, but I’d be careful with these sorts of things if they get too broad.
     
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,046
    3,431
    413
    Here's a sample morality clause for a contract for an executive position:

    Executive shall not do any thing or commit any act that shall reasonable be considered (i) to immoral, deceptive, scandalous, or obscene; or (ii) to injure, tarnish, damage, or otherwise negatively affect the reputation and goodwill associated with the Company or its Brands.

    Here's an example from a publishing contract:

    In the event that Author is publicly accused of the violation of law, the infringement or invasion of the rights of any third party, inciting infringement or invasion of third-party rights by others, or is otherwise accused of libel, slander, or defamatory conduct, or any other conduct that subjects, or could be reasonably anticipated to subject Author or Publisher to ridicule, contempt, scorn, hatred, or censure by the general public or which is likely to materially diminish the sales of the Work, Publisher may terminate this Agreement.

    As you can see, they're broad in terms of language.
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    5,250
    3,311
    313
    The executive clause is more acceptable because it hold only so long as the executive holds the position. But the publishing clause, as far as I can tell, has force for the entire term of the author's life. It essentially imposes a code of conduct, to be determined by the company. I wonder if it came out after an author's death, that the author had behaved scandalously, if the clause would still have force. I rather think it would.

    I would never sign such a contract. Not that it's something that might ever come up!
     
  10. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    1,283
    641
    113
    Meh, scandal will probably help sell your books... I suspect these are more than likely subjective, but in some rare cases enforced.

    I would be interested in the wording, but I also think I will just go on living my life.
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,046
    3,431
    413
    It could last beyond death if the term of the publishing agreement ran for the life of the copyright (which isn't unusual). If it came out after death that the author had breached the agreement I think you're right--the publisher would have a good argument to terminate.

    On a side note, I'd be leery of signing an agreement for the life of the copyright without some strong protections that allow me, the author, to get out of the agreement if necessary.
     
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    5,250
    3,311
    313
    I gotta be honest, though. If a book I wrote ever did get picked up by a publisher, chances are high that the only thing I'd be leery of is the pen running out of ink. Would I really refuse to sign over the morality clause? Probably not. But it still stinks. And that the publishers know most of us wouldn't walk away over that one item makes it stink all the more. It smacks of an aristocrat worrying the peasant might get his white kid gloves dirty.
     
  13. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Minstrel

    56
    22
    8
    This is way over the top, but so many clauses in publishing contracts are as bad or worse. I wouldn't sign it, but then I'm a committed indie. I guess the publisher sees it as a defense against being Twitter mobbed (or something similar).
     
  14. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

    1,890
    1,083
    163
    My issue is the notion of simply being accused of something and having it break a contract. Accusations are way too easy. I’d be fine signing something that says I’m screwed if I’m convicted of a crime, or if I intentionally set out to harm the publisher’s brand or what have you, but signing something that empowers accusations bugs me. Although I would need a lawyers to define all that down, heh heh.

    With clauses such as that, it’s no wonder innocent people pay off accusers so things don’t go public. It’s really an incitement to blackmail, LOL.
     
    skip.knox likes this.
  15. Malik

    Malik Archmage

    892
    973
    93
    [​IMG]

    Keep in mind, my Twitter bio initially read "hell-bound alcoholic."

    Also, "conduct that subjects, or could be reasonably anticipated to subject Author or Publisher to ridicule, contempt, scorn, hatred, or censure by the general public" is pretty much the definition of being a successful novelist, unless I missed something. (And if it's not, I don't want the job anymore.)
     
    Demesnedenoir and Devor like this.
Loading...

Share This Page