Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: The Grand Experiment: Registering on Book Country

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Registering on Book Country

(Standard disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer. You should not act on anything I say when it comes to legal agreements. If you care about your rights, get any legal agreement, including website terms, explained to you by a lawyer before you sign).

Book Country didn't last very long in The Grand Experiment. In fact, I didn't even register for it. I'll go into why at the bottom of the post, but we'll start with a description of the registration process.

It was a lot easier to find Book Country's "Join Now" button than Authonomy's. It's big, red, and in the upper-right-hand corner of the site, where I've been trained to look for such things. Once you click on it, you get a page that's very similar to Authonomy's registration form. Book Country asks for a display name, an e-mail address, and a password. Its Terms and Conditions are displayed in another tiny, hard-to-read box.

The terms open with pretty standard language, but refer specifically to the site being a place where people can self-publish (I remembered later that Book Country offers a variety of self-publishing services that have been panned by prominent self-published authors). The terms also discuss a focus on genre fiction and possible expansion plans, mention that Book Country "may" provide notice of changes to its terms (an improvement over Authonomy, at least), and discuss what users can and cannot do on the site before registering

All submissions to the site are deemed to be nonconfidential information. I'm not sure what that means in practical terms.

The third subheader of the agreement covers content. From the get-go, its terms are not as clear as Authonomy's ("Except as set forth herein, you will retain all rights in your Content"). By the end of the grant of license, they get murky enough that I've decided I don't want to be involved with them.

Grant of license quoted here:

"By posting or uploading any Content on the Website: (i) you understand that if your Work is in a genre included on the Book Country Website, and complies with these General Terms of Use, your Work may be made accessible to users of the Website and members will be able to review, comment on it and rate it; (ii) you represent and warrant that you own or control all rights in your Content, that such Content is original and does not, and will not, infringe the copyright, trademark or any other right of any person or entity, and that any “moral rights” in the Content have been waived; and (iii) you grant to us a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, transferable right and license (A) to display the Content on the Website, and (B) with respect to Content other than your Work, to use, display, reproduce, distribute, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, perform, make, sell and export such Content, in whole and in part, on the Website or in any formats and through any media, as we see fit, and you shall have no claims against Book Country for such use or non-use. Although Book Country may maintain copies of your Content, we are not required to do so and we may delete or destroy any such Content at any time."

The grant is pretty vanilla until partway through (ii), when it starts talking about "moral rights," which I have only ever heard discussed in the context of authors/artists/musicians/others who signed bad contracts (They're explained in somewhat clearer terms here). (ii) may be talking about moral rights in the work possessed by people other than the user, but it makes me uncomfortable in its ambiguity.

(iii), however, caused me a serious headache. "Work" is defined in the agreement as "excerpts from your writing," so writing uploaded to Book Country seems to be excepted from the massive rights-grab-forever in (iii). "Content" in the agreement is defined as "Any information, proposals, requests, manuscripts, creative works, pictures, photographs, letters, documents, demos, ideas, suggestions, concepts, methods, systems, designs, plans, techniques or other materials submitted, posted, uploaded, sent or otherwise transmitted to us on or through the Website in any manner, or by email."

I have no interest in providing a perpetual, transferable, and irrevocable right and license to display and/or pimp my book to Book Country. I am reasonably certain that this contract does not actually grant that ("Content other than your Work" in (iii) (B) seeming to mean everything I put up on the site except for my writing). Based upon the rest of the agreement, I think that (iii) is in there to let Book Country do whatever they want with user comments and reviews, which I'm fine with.

But it took me a lot of reading, re-reading, and reasoning to get to that point. And that process left me with a very queasy feeling in my stomach about Book Country.

Some contracts feel like agreements between friends signed for mutual benefit. Other contracts feel like someone trying to take advantage of you. This contract has the latter feel, and I have learned through painful experience to trust my instincts on that.

So, at least for now, I will not be participating in Book Country, and The Grand Experiment has grown slightly smaller.

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