Wednesday, November 15, 2017

So, my company owns everything I write (updated)


The company I work for requires me to submit my final manuscript to its legal department before the manuscript is published (contractually my company owns everything I create). The legal department just wants to ensure I’m not sharing anything proprietary or anything else that would make the company look bad (i.e., racist views, etc.). If they are okay with my novel, they will forfeit their ownership. When is the right time to share this with an agent? When the agent requests a full or when they give me an offer or after I sign with them? I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing.

When the agent requests the full. Tell her exactly what you told me.(see below)

This is a pretty big hurdle though. It doesn't sound as though your company is required to relinquish ownership, and their standards sound pretty subjective. What's racist to one person isn't to another.

I'd be pretty ticked off if I signed someone, worked on revisions, and was ready to go on sub only to find a third party had ownership.

I know that the government requires their employees of a certain pay grade to submit books for review but they don't claim ownership of the book. They just don't want secrets getting out.

I hope this company is paying you a lot of dough for this kind of craziness.

(update)
As usual, the comment column brings forth some pretty smart stuff.  From Meg Leader this morning:

You know I have to disagree with the QOTKU on this one. (Yes, I do have my one-way ticket to Carkoon and am planning an extended stay there.) I used to work for one of those weird companies and had similar requirements. Because I had already published both in novels and nonfiction, I was able to write in an exclusion in my agreement that the attorneys accepted without a hitch. BUT...if you didn't do that up front (not being able to foresee the future and all), then...

Once you have your novel complete, IMMEDIATELY submit it for your attorneys to review. They don't care diddly about quality--it can even be a fairly early draft. They just care that it's not going to damage the company. Get that clearance from them as soon as you can, and THEN go out to agents with queries. Any changes between when the attorneys saw it and when it finally gets published are marked down to "editorial input from the publishers." As long as you don't add anything derogatory to the company or reveal any secrets in revisions you'll be good.

And...think seriously about using a pen name for your published work. If you don't reveal your company's name or your name, and you don't give away any company secrets or include anything derogatory to the company, then the attorneys have nothing to worry about.

Packing my bags to Carkoon even as I finish this comment...
Sorry Meg, travel to Carkoon is fully booked for the upcoming holiday.
I think what you said is pretty savvy.

I was thinking alongs the lines of having the sign off on the most final version, but if that's not the issue I thought it was, I'd do what Meg suggests.



28 comments:

Meg Leader said...

You know I have to disagree with the QOTKU on this one. (Yes, I do have my one-way ticket to Carkoon and am planning an extended stay there.) I used to work for one of those weird companies and had similar requirements. Because I had already published both in novels and nonfiction, I was able to write in an exclusion in my agreement that the attorneys accepted without a hitch. BUT...if you didn't do that up front (not being able to foresee the future and all), then...

Once you have your novel complete, IMMEDIATELY submit it for your attorneys to review. They don't care diddly about quality--it can even be a fairly early draft. They just care that it's not going to damage the company. Get that clearance from them as soon as you can, and THEN go out to agents with queries. Any changes between when the attorneys saw it and when it finally gets published are marked down to "editorial input from the publishers." As long as you don't add anything derogatory to the company or reveal any secrets in revisions you'll be good.

And...think seriously about using a pen name for your published work. If you don't reveal your company's name or your name, and you don't give away any company secrets or include anything derogatory to the company, then the attorneys have nothing to worry about.

Packing my bags to Carkoon even as I finish this comment...

french sojourn said...


Interesting, another layer of hell I never even knew about. Good luck with this. Off to write, luckily I belong to a non-profit. (Almost wrote non-prophet.)

cheers!

Kathy Joyce said...

Interesting situation! At what point does the company release ownership? When you've finished the draft and are ready to query? Or, do they stay involved through all the R&Rs with agents, editors, etc? It'd be nice if you could get the written release before querying...

Kathy Joyce said...

Oops, Meg already covered this, with more knowledge than I have.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yeah, this is a whole pile of icky! I have never heard such a thing as a company owning an employee’s creative output that wasn’t specifically paying them for such like a gaming company. Yeah, I would not sign such an agreement. No damn way. People claim victim status at the drop of a hat now days- it is so subjective. Yeah, get that resolved sooner than later. Before you query even.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I presume this is different than work-for-hire?

RachelErin said...

I'm curious how a company could possibly claim ownership of something I wrote in my spare time, as well. My closest experience is when I worked in a university lab, all my lab notebooks belonged to the university, and I signed a contract stating I understood that.

(Which is why I was boggled when some grad students at a different university got busted for synthesizing cocaine in their lab on their free time --they kept detailed records in their lab notebooks. The ones that belonged to the university.)

If anyone is able to share what kind of industry or sort of company does this, I would be interested.

Donnaeve said...

How bizarre. I've never heard of this either. The OP/employee must work for a company that is very public, or is in the creative space itself, in some way.

Still, just never heard of it. Meg I don't think your personal experience with this is Carkoon-bound worthy. No. You have to insert foot in mouth like I did about a certain "used to be anchor on a particular network" who wrote the sorts of books I thought Janet was referring to one day. POOF! Next thing I know I'm smelling kale and lima beans, and suffering vertigo from how fast my head spun on my transport to that lovely spot.

Ahem. I'm still here. Hello? Can't I catch a break - yet? I mean the holidays are coming...and all.

Amy Johnson said...

Not something I'd considered before either. This sure is beyond the scope of stuff I think I know something about. Opie, I suppose (and hope) the company's attorneys will give you something in writing about the company's approval and its termination of ownership. I'm guessing an agent and a publisher might want to see that, including something that says revisions and editing beyond what the company already saw would be okay.

Kitty said...

I wonder if Steve Hamilton had to submit his Alex McKnight series to IBM?

Kitty said...

Hello, Donna! Hope you're feeling fine ... or as well as can be expected.

Steve Stubbs said...

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

"I presume this is different than work﷓for﷓hire?"

Very similar. If a company pays you to produce intellectual property, they can reasonably infer that they own whatever intellectual property you produce. If an engineer figures out everybody has been wrong all these years and designs a perpetual motion machine that actually works, the company that paid him to come up with stuff like this can reasonably assert that they paid for it and therefore have a property interest in it. That is the downside of renting your brain for a living.

These agreements are very broad, so, yes, in theory they own your novel as well. In practice they just want to ensure you are not telling the U.S. Attorney's office how to initiate a successful prosecution against them, or giving confidential information to competitors, or bad mouthing them to the public (i.e., customers.) Nobody is forced to sign these agreements.

Karen said...

I remember reading once that Robert C. O'Brien, author of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. He worked for National Geographic, which had a clause in its contract that anything created by an employee belonged to the company.

So Robert wrote his book under a pseudonym. A great solution to a nasty contract clause problem? No. But he may have assumed that the book would sink like a stone, as most books do. Instead it won the Newbery.

I have no idea if it's true, but I remember reading that, unable to reveal his identity with National Geographic hovering, ready to pounce, O'Brien called in sick to the award ceremony.

S.P. Bowers said...

My husband worked for such a company. It kinda kills the creativity. Or at least delays it. Hubby had several ideas for inventions/technology to market but just never did it because it would belong to the company.

S W said...

Thanks Janet for posting my question! I work for a company that is very stealth and has a prestigious reputation (obviously not government ;) ) and its leadership wants to always keep it that way. The company pays well but takes a lot from its employees (I’m on the road every week and work 70+ hours). If a new hire isn’t willing to sign the agreement, their only other option is to go find a new job. But it’s an amazing company that opens up a lot of doors, so every new hire doesn’t think twice about signing the agreement. I’ve talked with three co-workers who have published novels and had no issues with the company claiming ownership. The odds that they won’t let me publish my manuscript are very low, but it’s a hoop to jump through that might scare off potential agents (assuming I would ever even be worthy of one). I think its great advice to submit my manuscript now to get the legal approval. I don’t have an agent but a publisher has requested the full. I haven’t told them yet about my little hoop. I was going to tell them if they gave me an offer. It sounds like I should tell them now.

Donnaeve said...

Hey Kitty Feeling better each day, although it's hit or miss on some days, but I've definitely turned a corner.

:)

nightsmusic said...

I'm with RachelErin on this one. What I do in my private time is not my company's business unless they pay me 24/7/365 which no company does. Ever. But this reminds me of a close friend who designed one of the first and still foremost anti-statin drugs on the market. The company he works for is still making billions on it. He got his regular salary. But he worked on another on his own, at his home, after hours. They couldn't touch it according to the attorneys since the company didn't pay him a constant, hourly wage of any kind. The contract only applied to what he did on company time. So I guess I'm confused that any company owns your free time output as well. But what do I know? I won't ever run into this problem...

RachelErin said...

nightsmusic, I shared this with my law-student husband this morning, and he said it's a very simple contractual agreement. If both parties sign to it, there are very few limits on what can and can't be contracted.

He was also highly sympathetic to why a corporation would want to do this. I see his point, but something about framing it as company ownership needles me.

Craig F said...

SW I hope it works out for you. Where you are at doesn't sound too bad, considering some things I have seen. Many companies feel that when they people in salaried positions they own them. They do that by a rider in the small print.

Your company just seems to like a nice, thick CYA blanket. That means that there is a level of paranoia involved. Counteract that by having them sign off on your book when they are done with it. That paper will be helpful if things devolve, which quite often happens when dealing with paranoia.

Best of luck to you.

Donna: Nice to see that are having a better day. I hope they continue to get better and last longer each day.

wanderlustywriter.com said...

I had a friend whose company tried to make him sign a contract like this. (It was at a gaming company.) He refused, and still got the job. I don't know every unique situation, but just want people to know they can refuse to sign contracts like this. I personally find it BS that a company could claim ownership over something you do in your free time. My company sucks enough time and energy out of me as is!

Colin Smith said...

Wow. This is not a situation I would have even imagined possible. I understand that what I create in the course of my day job belongs to the company. But outside of that, it's mine. So if I develop a productivity app for the business, that belongs to the company. If, on my own time, I develop an awesome new video game, that's mine. But I don't work for a video game company, so there would be no conflict of interest. But a company (assuming it's non-creative?) owning your novel just to maintain reputation? Not heard of that before.

Kim Long said...

My previous legal employer required employees to turn over any compensation their attorneys earned from other jobs, as the idea was the employer was paying you a salary so that if you were working, you should be working for it. Speaking engagement fees, teaching, everything was included. Our firm merged with them and upon hearing these rules, many quit outside teaching gigs rather than turn over the dough. (Shame because teaching legal writing is a form of marketing for the firm.) Anyway, I don't work there anymore, but I have wondered how that would have worked for an author who became published.

Joseph Snoe said...

Great advice ,Meg Leader. It sounds like the company is more concerned with confidentiality and reputation than with hoarding all revenue sources. to paraphrase Barney Fife, they want to nip trouble in the bud.

Donnaeve - Seeing you post again is the best news of the day.

Kate Larkindale said...

This seems bizarre to me... How could what I do outside of my job belong to my employer? Or indeed be any of their business? I write as a large part of my day job, and I understand that work belongs to my employer as it should. But I have never even considered that what I do outside of work could be considered their property.

I don't think this is something that would even be possible in New Zealand employment contracts. Thankfully...

Lennon Faris said...

My husband had these sorts of restrictions in grad school. I can understand that a company (or university, etc.) would take measures to ensure that one employee does not topple their carefully built tower. Still... glad I don't have this extra hoop. S W, best of luck!

And Donna, good to see you on the Reef again.

Miles O'Neal said...

Numerous innovative companies- especially in the high tech world- have similar agreements. Even more so if they have you working closely with third parties. The lines get blurry with knowledge workers, and companies want to protect themselves.

Only one of these that I signed did not have a place for exclusions. I added it filled it in and signed it, and no one looked askance at me. Everywhere else I took my time and filled it out with everything I could think of.

Then again, for the most part these related to inventions and such. Only the place that contracted me out used language such that a novel might be included. But I was writing articles for journals and magazines related to what I did, and they loved it because it looked good for them.

I'm with Meg on this one, SW, see if they'll sign off on it as is.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Karen, if I had found myself in the position of potentially being discovered as O'Brien was, I would have hired an actor to portray me at the awards ceremony. Should news of this get out, I would have played the "author too shy to appear in public" card.

BJ Muntain said...

Working as a technical writer or in communications, you often come across these clauses in an employment contract. Basically, it's common for a contract to say 'anything created while working for this company is the property of the company'. I always mentioned it to human resources when I was about to sign the contract. They'd say, 'Just everything you write in the course of your job.' If that wasn't clear in the contract, I'd ask them to revise that clause to make it clear.

Basically, the clause is simply saying that you can't take the things you've written for the company and then sell them as your own. And I'm fine with that. work for hire.

It's up to the employee to clarify this at signing. It's important to recognize that clause and make sure it's clear. In some cases, as with the OP, it may be worth it, anyway.