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By Allison MacLachlan
September 22, 2011
5:38 PM

Filed under News

TWUC’s “bill of rights” offers guidance to writers in the digital age

The Writer’s Union of Canada today announced A Writer’s Bill of Rights for the Digital Age. The 12-point document is intended to spark discussion on Canadian authors’ rights in the e-book era.

Greg Hollingshead, chair of TWUC, says the bill of rights originated as a response to members’ concerns over changes in the book industry. “We realized we had to firm up what we think and need and want,” he says.

Starting in early 2011, TWUC, which represents nearly 2,000 Canadian authors, elicited input from more than 50 writers and digital experts, consolidating feedback into 12 main points.

The bill of rights is mainly focused on tightening copyright restrictions and handling contract issues in a way that benefits authors. “The concern with the sort of ethos of free access that comes with digital thinking is that the creators are going to get left behind,” says Hollingshead. “We’re all in this together, so we just want to make sure that our economic needs and our rights are protected.”

The document suggests publishers and authors should split net proceeds of e-book sales equally, a point Hollingshead predicts will “probably draw the most attention from writers and publishers.” The current industry standard for authors is 25 per cent of net profits. “We’re just looking for ways, either over time or with discussion, of getting that up closer to equal,” Hollingshead says.

The bill of rights also includes provisions that touch on copyright, rights reversion, and library use of e-books. Hollingshead expects the document will change as digital publishing continues to evolve, and through ongoing dialogue with TWUC members and the industry at large. “It’s not just staking out what we would hope for,” he says.

Sally Harding, a literary agent and co-owner of The Cooke Agency, says many items in the bill of rights present “ideal scenarios.” But even if it’s not yet clear how closely or consistently it will be followed in practice, Harding says establishing best practices is valuable.

“We’re operating in a tough environment, and things will change in all directions,” she says. “It’s important to debate these issues, and I think [TWUC is] being very forthright when they say these things are not written in stone. They’re saying this is what we should be working toward.”

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