A Special Place

Towards the end of last year, I was approached by a woman who asked if I would contribute to a book she was editing. The book was looking at how women were faring with Covid-19, and all it brought us. And all, I suppose, it took away from us.

I agreed to write a piece for consideration, to writr a bio, and to send a photo. So far, so usual.

Post-submission, I was sent the publisher’s contract / release. That is when things got worrying. Actually, I wasn’t worried; I was annoyed.

The editor and publisher were one and the same – but that’s not the bit that bothered me. The bit that bothered me was that the editor/publisher wanted, and expected, all the authors to surrender their work to her, in return for no monetary compensation now or ever. She demanded that authors sign their agreement to the following (errors as in the original):

‘I realize that the Story may be broadly used by X through her publishing firm Y or affiliates to publish the Story in her book or otherwise create versions of it, and I grant the right to adapt the story for that purpose.

I agree that I will not be entitled to any compensation and no third parties entitled to any payment or other consideration as a condition due to use of the story or any similar material as related to X and the theme of her Book project about (…).  

I hereby grant (and release to X a world wide, royalty free, transferable license, with rights of sublicense, to publish, use for advertising or publicity purposes, and otherwise use the story (or any portion or derivation thereof) in web, print, video, audio and all other media (including, without limitation, any and all social media) and in any internet, radio, television, or live stage program.

I further acknowledge and agree that neither Y nor its affiliates shall be responsible or liable for any feedback or comments provided by others to my Story.’

Do you see why I have a problem with this? Actually – I have several.

This woman was publishing a book – for profit – using the free labour of other women. By agreeing to submit, an author was agreeing to donate her work to the editor/publisher for no profit whatsoever. Hours of work that would never see any payment for the creator of the work. Content where the only person who would make any money out of it would be the editor/publisher, who was demanding the rights, in perpetuity to every conceivable iteration of that work.

I know, nobody had a gun put to their head to sign this contract, and maybe I should be admiring the chutzpah of the editor/publisher; the absolute neck on her to make such demands of anyone.

It would be different if this were for charity, but it’s not. It would be different if this project were one of those ‘profit-share’ efforts; where, once the costs of production have been covered, the remaining money is shared equally between contributors. But it’s not.

What it is is a woman, deliberately setting out to make money from the efforts of other women (many of them marginalised) – and that will never sit right with me. I’ve held off writing about my misgivings to see if it would rankle less as the months went by, but it hasn’t. I really do believe that there is something unethical about this contract, and the expectations it puts on women. I also think that if a man was setting out to exploit women this way, it would be deemed unacceptable by more than just me.

As Madeline Albright put it so eloquently in 2006: ‘There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’ I can’t help but think that there’s an equally special place for women who deliberately set out to exploit other women.