Any writer who is worth his or her proverbial salt, loves to read. Unfortunately, we sometimes fail to extend that reading to the contracts and waivers we sign. Not only is this poor business practice, but signing away like a celebrity in a swarming crowd of fans can lead to financial woes.
Case in Point
I was geared up to partake in my city’s First Friday art event. I had books ready to be exchanged for dollars, sketches of how my booth would look, and signs to lure people in.
Two days before the event, the coordinator emailed me the waiver. The waiver that I read, read again, and then read once more before saying, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
The waiver had the usual clauses stating if I got injured I wouldn’t sue the city and that the products I’m selling aren’t dangerous. I’m fine with that because I’m an adult who is willing to accept responsibility for myself. What I was not willing to accept was the clause stating that if anyone was injured “in the vicinity” of my booth, I would be liable for any damages.
Think about that. “In the vicinity” is vague. Vague in the legal world is scarier than a Wes Craven movie. Is that within six inches or is that within six feet? And is that any injury? Even if someone trips on one of the potholes in the lot where the event is held?
The next clause that worried me was that recommendation that I obtain insurance for the event to cover damages caused “in the vicinity” of my booth. Keep in mind I received this waiver only a couple days before the event, not exactly time enough to shop around for insurance…not that I could afford extra insurance anyway.
Needless to say, I’m not going to be liable for someone tripping and breaking an arm unless I’m directly responsible. As a sole proprietor (which many writers are), if someone sues me they can seize all my assets. It may seem an overreaction, but selling a few books is not worth losing my house, so I shredded the waiver and politely backed out of the event.
Read Your Contracts and Terms of Service
As a writer or artist, you should scour contracts and terms of service. You need to know what rights you’re selling or giving up. For example, posting an image of your artwork on Facebook can count as giving up first publication rights and may ruin your chances of selling the image for prints to some art dealers.
You also need to know when/if you can use your article, photo, painting again (this is called selling “all rights”). You need to know what you are liable for if the information in your article ends up hurting someone or if someone tries to claim copyright infringement.
If you don’t want the surprise of discovering a place only pays in Chili’s gift cards once a year when you were expecting a check at the end of each month, you understand the portion of the contract that states how and when you will be compensated. You also need to know if you are getting into an exclusivity deal where you cannot sell or show or publish your work anywhere else (including your own website or promo materials).
Contracts and Terms of Service aren’t exciting things to read and, for the most part, aren’t hiding anything covert. These aren’t typically matters where you need to call in a lawyer to find out if you should agree to it, but if you’re willing to put your name to it, you need to understand the consequences. Saying “oh, I didn’t see that part” won’t stand up in court.
Having Fun with Terms of Service
As a perfect tie-in with my situation, this week news came out that researchers made an adjustment to The Cloud’s (London’s very handy free wifi service) terms of service. They changed it to state that by agreeing to the terms, users must give up their first-born son. Known as the Herod Clause, it’s a funny experiment that shows how little we pay attention to what we agree to…at least I hope it’s just an experiment since six people agreed to it before the hack was found out. Or, maybe those six people really don’t like their eldest sons.
And that is really that. Have a great weekend everyone!