Thursday, November 8, 2012
John Fogerty: A Cautionary Tale
Anyway, the band had about five-six years of success, then broke up in the ‘70s. John moved on to a solo career. As happens with a lot of bands desperate for money, the rights to CCR’s songs, most of them written by John, were sold to someone else. And there’s where the fun begins.
John, in the course of his solo career, wrote a song called “The Old Man Down the Road.” The new owners of the CCR catalogue thought it sounded far too similar to “Run Through the Jungle”—also written by John. So they sued. Mr. Fogerty found himself in court, accused to plagiarizing himself.
What does this have to do with writing? Glad you asked. That YA book I’ve been blogging about grew out of two published novels, a M/M and its follow-up, a M/M/F. That’s a human man, a male vampire, and a vampire/human woman. I got wondering what their kids would be like, so I wrote about it. There’s where the problem enters in. Technically it’s a sequel of sorts to my published books. Maybe “spinoff” is more accurate.
At any rate, I’ve got this paragraph in my contract with my publisher. I understand it’s standard in most contracts. “B. If AUTHOR writes another WORK that is a sequel to the WORK covered in this contract, using an identical theme and/or major characters from the contracted WORK, PUBLISHER retains a right of first refusal for the subsequent WORK. If PUBLISHER does not accept for publication this additional WORK within ninety (90) days of submission, it will be considered refused and AUTHOR will be free to market rights to the new work without encumbrance.”
Normally this wouldn’t be a problem. Having related (by characters or theme) books all come out from the same publisher makes sense from a marketing standpoint. If readers like one of the books, they know right where to go for the others. My problem is, I jumped genres. The first two books were erotic romances. The continuation is YA with no sex and a plot not focused on romance. It’s intended for a wholly different audience and age group. You don’t need to read the other two to understand what’s going on in the third. In fact, if you’re under 18, I’d rather you didn’t.
However, under the terms of my contract, does my current publisher (who doesn’t publish YA) have a claim on it? If I try to market it to YA publishers, am I in violation of contract? Am I in danger of becoming John Fogerty?
Fortunately this was easily resolved. I emailed the publisher and explained the situation. They agreed it wasn’t their cup of tea, in spite of its origins. The new book is intended for a different age group and audience, so there’s no conflict of interest. I’m free to market it to YA publishers, where it belongs.
Now, if I ever write the other sequel, the one about the secondary character from the other books, that’ll be a whole different situation. That one is a romance, possibly a steamy one, and even though it’s M/F it’s something that company publishes, and it’s using characters and themes taken directly from the previous books, and major characters from the first two make cameo appearances. In that case, right of first refusal would definitely kick in. I have no problem with that.
The moral of the story is, just because you created something doesn’t mean you’ll end up owning it. The minute contracts come into play and money changes hands it’s a whole new ballgame. In fact, the second there’s profit to be made is when the fun begins. Read those contracts carefully, have a lawyer go over them if necessary, and be careful what you’re selling and what rights you’re signing away. Both Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster have passed on, but I think their estates’ lawsuit against DC comics is still going on. (They sold all rights to Superman back in the ‘40s, I think. It was a comic book character. Who knew?)
Maybe I should have asked Paul McCartney to write this blog. He’d know what I’m talking about.
Okay, enough with the legal crap. Gotta write something no publisher has a stake in yet. I think I’ll listen to my “Best of CCR” album. On vinyl. Middle Ages, remember.