Thinking Out Loud

May 13, 2018

Panicked Publishers add Morality Clauses to Book Contracts

After John Ortberg (pictured left) took concerns about sexual impropriety concerning Bill Hybels (pictured right) to the Chicago Tribune, the dominoes started to fall leading to Hybels’ resignation from one of America’s largest churches last month.

From Bill Cosby to Bill Hybels, 2018 has so far been a year that has placed sexual misconduct in the spotlight. Each year, publishers are forced to withdraw product from their catalogues, or cancel pending publication of forthcoming titles. Sometimes, there’s nothing in the book itself that is harmful, but the authors have become tainted and publishers want to avoid the spectre of large numbers of returns if the public gaze intensifies.

Rachel Deahl covered this recently at Publisher’s Weekly. The following is only a small excerpt, so read the piece by clicking the title below:

In the #MeToo Moment, Publishers Turn to Morality Clauses

Until recently, the term “moral turpitude” is not one that crossed the lips of too many people in book publishing…

A legal term that refers to behavior generally considered unacceptable in a given community, moral turpitude is something publishers rarely worried themselves about. No longer.

Major publishers are increasingly inserting language into their contracts—referred to as morality clauses—that allows them to terminate agreements in response to a broad range of behavior by authors. And agents, most of whom spoke with PW on the condition of anonymity, say the change is worrying in an industry built on a commitment to defending free speech…

…Another agent, who admitted to having concerns about some of the morality clauses he’s seen, said he nonetheless understands publishers’ rationale for using them. “There are obviously a lot of very complex things going on here,” he said, speaking to the way publishers are reacting to the shifting social climate. He also noted that most publishers he’s dealt with have been open to changing these clauses. “When you go back to [publishers] and remind them that authors are allowed protected speech, political or otherwise, my experience is that they’ve been very responsive.”…

…Mary Rasenberger, president of the Authors Guild, who has seen some of the morality clauses publishers are using, said she also understands why houses are moving in this direction. “There are instances where it is appropriate to cancel a contract with someone—if, say, they are writing a book on investing and they’re convicted of insider trading.” But Rasenberger has concerns about the new boilerplates she’s been seeing. “These clauses need to be very narrowly drawn. The fear is that clauses like these can quash speech that is unpopular, for whatever reason.”

Another agent admitted to being distressed by the fact that some of the morality clauses she’s seen “are going very far.” She said that though she and many of her colleagues think it’s “not unfair for a publisher to expect an author to be the same person when it publishes the book as when it bought the book,” she’s worried how extreme some of the language in these new clauses is.

“If you’re buying bunny books or Bible books, these clauses make sense,” said Lloyd Jassin, a lawyer who specializes in publishing contracts, referring to deals for children’s books and Christian books. He wondered, though, about a publisher trying to hold authors of any other type of book to a moral standard. Noting that morality clauses are about money, not morality (specifically, they’re about a publisher’s ability to market an author), he posed a hypothetical. “Is the author of The El Salvador Diet, which touts a fish-only regimen, allowed to be photographed eating at Shake Shack? That goes to the heart of the contract.” He paused and added: “This is definitely a free speech issue.” …

again, you’re encouraged to read all this in the context of the full article

 

 

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