“We recently visited your website's copywriteink.com page and thought that as a trusted expert in the field, you might want to write a "how to" article or articles on a topic that you are knowledgeable and passionate about.”
I declined, with exception to one tiny part (explained later), but not because it was a form letter. I declined because if you put aside the gratuitous e-mail and read their content submission agreement, you might find one of the most overreaching and abusive policies that I’ve ever had the privilege, er, pain, to read.
Sure, I’m not an attorney and this is not legal advice, but even slivers of HowToDoThings’ 4-page “take everything, leave nothing” submission policy provides a very clear picture of why content originators (bloggers, writers, etc.) need to read, very carefully, any such terms before entrusting their content to anyone.
You hereby irrevocably assign, transfer, and quitclaim to HowToDoThings (or such third party/ies as HowToDoThings may elect) all right, title, and interest. You may have or hereafter acquire in and to all Published Content, either directly or indirectly, along with all intellectual property rights and other proprietary rights relating to all Published Content, including any and all registrations with respect thereto, whether foreign or domestic, and all renewals and extensions thereof, as well as related rights of priority under international conventions, and all rights to sue and recover damages for past infringements.
Right. For the promise of a 50-50 Google AdSense split on that page (according to the e-mail), the originator would surrender all rights, indefinitely, including intellectual property rights that are a derivative of the work, to the site. That’s terrible and it gets worse.
You authorize HowToDoThings and its successors and assigns to use one or more of the following: (a) your name; (b) pertinent biographical information relating to You; and (c) your likeness in connection with the publication of any Published Content, as well as any derivative works based upon any Published Content, without further compensation or consideration to You, and without your further review or consent.
In other words, not only will they own the originator’s content, but the originator’s likeness and name as well, and reserve the right to attach it to derivative works without review or consent. And there’s more.
If HowToDoThings requests that You sign any documents or take any other actions to confirm the rights granted under this Agreement, You agree to do so. You hereby irrevocably appoint HowToDoThings as your attorney-in-fact (which appointment is coupled with an interest) for the purpose of executing such documents on your behalf.
Not only would the originator sign over their content, likeness, and intellectual property rights related to the work, but also appoint HowToDoThings as their attorney-in-fact, indefinitely, with permission to act on their behalf. All this despite another provision that claims this is not an agency, partnership, joint venture, employee-employer or franchisor-franchisee relationship. Unless, of course, there is any libel or copyright infringement. Then, the originator is on their own to protect what the site claims as their property. And there’s more.
You hereby grant to HowToDoThings the exclusive, royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, transferable, worldwide right and license (including the right to sublicense through multiple tiers of sublicensees) to use, reproduce, publish in any form, whether tangible or electronic, and sell all Published Content.
I know what some might think. In a world where people are so willing to share, isn’t it a genuine offer to split Google AdSense? Unfortunately, there is no provision of this in the submission agreement. But there is a provision about such promises.
This Agreement, together with the Guidelines, which are incorporated into and made a part of this Agreement, each as in effect and posted on the Site from time to time, constitute the entire agreement between You and HowToDoThings and supersede all prior understandings, whether written or oral with regard to the subject matter of this Agreement.
Add to all this a termination agreement that allows HowToDoThings to terminate the agreement at anytime (with them keeping your content, likeness, and intellectual property rights), and it’s easy to see why content originators need to read these agreements closer than ever. That is, unless you can afford to pursue arbitration in San Mateo County, Calif., which is your only recourse according to the agreement. So what tiny part of what they are doing do I agree to?
We are actively looking for your feedback on our site.
Okay, here is some feedback: I think the submission agreement makes HowToDoThings look like an online piranha, attempting to take advantage of and prey off of less experienced content originators by stealing away their rights, names, likenesses, and intellectual property for the promise of, well, nothing and the loss of, well, everything.
The only rights online publishers need to request is first electronic rights, which would grant such a site the right to publish original content first, perhaps with a built-in provision that the originator cannot resell the material for a set time period, not to exceed 30-60 days. While it makes sense for publishers to retain bylines and likenesses with the published content, it is ridiculous to ask for any provision that assigns such identifiers to derivative works that may or may not have anything to do with the originator.
By the way, it also pays to read the terms of social networks. Some are playing shell games too, claiming to be distribution channels on one hand and publishers on the other hand. Their definition depends exclusively on their win factor.