Negotiating Territorial and Translation Rights

Last week, we started our look at contract negotiation with a review of “primary rights,” meaning print, ebook and serial rights. This week, we look at the other primary rights: territorial rights and translation rights. (Note: some people consider territory and translation secondary rights, and that’s fine too.)

Negotiating Territorial Rights

In publishing contracts, “territorial rights” refers to the right (usually, but not always, exclusive) to publish a work within a given territory. Territorial rights vary widely within contracts, and publishers willingness to negotiate them varies also.

The most common territorial rights request is “all territories throughout the world” (the old language was “throughout the universe”). Note that “exclusive publication rights throughout the world” gives the publisher the right to print and distribute the book itself or to sublicense others to do so in different territories.

Publishers usually want exclusive worldwide rights to ebook formats, due to the ease of distributing ebooks globally via the Internet. Given the modern mechanisms for ebook production and distribution, it’s very hard to negotiate less than global rights on an ebook deal. Authors can always ask to restrict a publisher’s ebook distribution rights to less than global territories (for example, U.S. only) but publishers rarely agree.

Many publishers also ask for exclusive worldwide rights to print formats, but here the author has more room to negotiate. Alternatives to worldwide exclusive rights are U.S. only, North American rights, European rights…and many other options. When negotiating, take the publisher’s standard distribution channels into account. Granting world rights to a publisher which has worldwide distribution is different than giving equivalent rights to a tiny house.

Another option is an initial grant of worldwide rights with territorial termination rights (in the author) if the publisher doesn’t use the rights within a certain period. In other words, if the publisher doesn’t distribute the work abroad in a given format within a stated period (usually 3-5 years) the author can request to reclaim those rights. This is an option authors need to ask for during negotiations.

The publisher will want to keep the rights for several years because a book (or series) may take time to find its audience. Sometimes publishers wait to release a book abroad until additional books in the series (or by the author) are published, or until demand increases.

The takeaway: territorial rights may or may not be negotiable–in many cases the most you can do is seek reclamation rights for nonuse. But remember: in most cases the publisher isn’t seeking all those rights to hurt you or your work. The key is granting territorial rights that match the publisher’s ability to distribute and market the work.

Translation Rights are Usually More Negotiable Than Territory.

“Translation rights” refers to the right to publish a work in one or more languages other than English.

The publishing contract should specify which language(s) the publisher has the (usually exclusive) right to publish the work in and translate the work into. (And yes, I know I just ended a sentence with a preposition. I simulcast these posts on Twitter, and reworking it in less than 140 characters went badly.)

As with territorial rights, the translation rights authors grant to publishers need to match the publisher’s ability to deliver. Authors who want to keep translation rights for separate licensing should make sure the contract grants the publisher English-language only.

If publishers insist on translation rights, and the author wants the deal, one option is to reclaim unused rights (as with territory). As with territory, this gives the author the option to reclaim unused translation rights after a stated period. Publishers won’t always offer this option, so authors should ask for it if the publisher requires translation rights.

A Word About Negotiation Generally.

Publishers have legal counsel (and management) which specifies the negotiating points the editor can and cannot offer. However, the negotiating guidelines often allow the editor to agree to even more, if the author (or agent) asks for the term specifically. Knowing what to ask for, and how to ask for it (“politely & professionally”) can make a huge difference in negotiations.

I hope you’ll join me Friday on Twitter for a special discussion of the legal issues with writing for anthologies – and here next week as we continue our look at contract negotiation.