for those who haven’t seen it

I was mentioning James Frey’s latest atrocity to a few friends last night, and promised I would point them at the details, so here they are, by way of Scalzi’s blog.

Holy abusive contracts, Batman. It appears that Frey’s crass, opportunistic exploitation knows neither bounds nor shame. I can only hope the public outcry will go far enough to scare people away from signing up to be his factory drones — but sadly, I doubt it will.

0 Responses to “for those who haven’t seen it”

  1. moonandserpent

    The money is (possibly) too good. It’s like gambling.

    I fucking hate that guy, too.

    • Marie Brennan

      I have a hard time imagining the money ends up that good, even in a “success” scenario, given that there’s no provision in the contract that allows the sucker employee to audit Frey’s books — so Frey can basically pay whatever he likes, and the writer has no way of knowing whether it’s fair.

      • moonandserpent

        Right. It’s gambling.

        Here’s $500-$1000 for your book.

        BUT you’re getting points off the eventual royalties and development deals and its not unlikely that it’ll be in development before before the book is even finished. It’s a gamble – $500 and obscurity vs. a small piece of that Harry Potter cash and… obscurity.

        It’s about as fair as a roulette table.

        • Marie Brennan

          Points off of net profits. Which can be massaged into oblivion even when you’re allowed to audit the books; Hollywood has made a fine art of this.

          I mean, yeah. The dude behind I Am Number Four may very well make more money from that deal than his MFA friends will ever see from their writing. He’s still getting screwed, and Christ, anybody with one-quarter of a brain ought to be able to see that.

          I side with everybody who’s saying, “uh, MFA programs? What the hell is wrong with you that you can’t be bothered to teach your students to look both ways before crossing the road?”

          • moonandserpent

            Honestly, while MFA’s should educate on crap like this, I’d suspect that the “writer’s workshops” he’s drawing from are not the kind stocked with MFAs – more like the kind stocked with people who think they actually won that poetry “contest” that requires a down payment.

            I know someone who got roped into ghostwriting out of a low-end workshop.

          • Marie Brennan

            He may also be going to places like that — but the NYMag article is by a Columbia MFA student, and clearly says Frey was making the rounds of various universities, pitching his scheme to students actually looking to make a career out of writing. Basically, he’s targeting people with dreams, large amounts of debt, and (thanks to the anti-commercial mentality of their programs) no practical understanding of how the publishing industry works.

          • moonandserpent

            Sigh. I’d seen this sourced so many placesthat I apparently couldn’t be bothered to read the original article. Mea culpa. Man, it amazes me that Frey has found a way to go lower than the Pieces scandal.

  2. icedrake

    Frey’s practices got boingboinged, too. here

  3. alecaustin

    Wow, what a charmer.

    Seems consistent with the character of a man who’d steal other people’s stories and put them out as his own memoir, though.

    • Marie Brennan

      If you click through to the NYMag article, Frey comes across as this incredibly arrogant and amoral asshole. Somehow, I doubt that’s a misrepresentation.

  4. Anonymous

    Natürlich, it gets better if you’re a Thoroughly Evil LawyerTM and read the contract with an eye toward whether it’s legal… and determine that it’s not after less than half a page.

    • Marie Brennan

      Oh, egads — I hadn’t read the actual contract language, so hadn’t seen that “story idea owned by” bit. Hahahahahaaaaa. We had been wondering whether the contract would hold up in court, and pessimistically assumed that if you were dumb enough to sign it you’d be left without grounds to protest it — but apparently Frey can’t even be bothered to check his avarice long enough to cover his legal ass. This contract is clearly about intimidating the shit out of the poor, clueless MFA student, and anything else is secondary.

      Out of curiosity, if “Book-length works of prose, or a series of book-length works of prose, are not within this scope [of work for hire],” then how do media tie-in novels and the like work? I was under the impression those were WFH. Do they count as contributions to collective works, in a way that this scenario doesn’t?

      • Anonymous

        To answer your question:

        Badly. Or not at all.

        This is a historical problem. Under the 1909 Copyright Act, “work for hire” was a judge-made doctrine imported, in part, from state contract law… because under the 1909 Act, state courts could (and did) hear copyright lawsuits. This resulted in some severe ossification in contract language when tie-in novels (starting, if I recall correctly, with Gunsmoke novels and getting into science fiction through the notorious Spock Must Die, at least from a commercial-publisher-contracting point of view) developed standardized language… that did not change when the 1976 Copyright Act came into effect on 01 January 1978. After twenty years of hearings.

        The problem is that, as usual, publishing people don’t bother to look at the statutory language of underlying statutes. Another example: The ipso facto clauses in many book publishing contracts that purport to return the rights (and the plates used to print the book) to the author if the publisher files for bankruptcy. Similarly, it has been three decades since such clauses because outright unlawful (see 11 U.S.C. § 362).

        And since it’s in the best interests of the commercial publishers, and their upstream licensors (e.g., JarJarFilm), to convince authors that the authors have no continuing rights, you can guess exactly how interested they are in revising their contracts.

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