Pullman was speaking as president of the Society of Authors, which is pressing the UK government to adopt clauses from the new EU draft directive on the digital single market in order to “avoid unfair practices that currently prevent authors making a living from writing”. The Society highlighted the case of Horrid Henry author Francesca Simon, who has not received any royalties from the television and film adaptations of her Horrid Henry books, despite the series being broadcast in 44 countries with more than 1.5m DVDs sold.
In an article last December, Simon revealed that she was missing out on the royalties because when she sold Orion her first Horrid Henry book in 1993, the book deal included film and television rights. A deal with Novel Entertainment for those rights was subsequently negotiated by Orion. “They did a poor deal. They did not use a lawyer,” wrote Simon in the Author magazine. “Not understanding their proper value led to the worst mistake of my career.”
The new draft directive, released last week, states that authors “often have a weak bargaining position in their contractual relationships, when licensing their rights”, and that “transparency on the revenues generated by the use of their works or performances often remains limited”, with this affecting their remuneration.
It proposes two safeguards, which the Society of Authors says are particularly important for writers. The so-called “bestseller clause” would give authors the right to claim additional and appropriate remuneration if the returns in their contracts are disproportionately low compared to the subsequent profits from exploitation of the works. The transparency safeguard, meanwhile, would give writers a right to regular and adequate information on the exploitation of their works.
“I welcome this draft directive, especially for its emphasis on transparency and the bestseller clause. Authors badly need the sort of natural justice that these clauses embody, not least because our work contributes substantially to the wealth of the nation,” said Pullman. “I hope that our government will see the rightness of these proposals and embody them firmly in the law of our land to ensure that they continue when we leave the EU.”
Society of Authors chief executive Nicola Solomon urged the UK government “to implement these clauses without delay”, and for the provisions to be adopted in UK law, given that the directive is unlikely to have effect until after Britain has left the EU.
“Publishers too often fail to give their authors full information on sales and exploitation of their work. Many more gain an unfair windfall when a work is an unexpected success but do not share any of that gain with authors. This unfairness leads to many authors no longer being able to make a living from writing and, if unchecked, threatens the creative excellence of our publishing industries,” she said.
“Having provided evidence of such unfair contract terms to the Commission, we are delighted that the EU accepts there is a problem and is suggesting sensible and proportionate measures to improve the position for creators.”
The directive, part of an EU strategy to create a digital single market, also aims to help rights holders to negotiate and be remunerated for online exploitation of their content, and to provide a “clear legal framework” for when journalistic content is licensed for digital use.
“I want journalists, publishers and authors to be paid fairly for their work, whether it is made in studios or living rooms, whether it is disseminated offline or online, whether it is published via a copying machine or commercially hyperlinked on the web,” said EC president Jean-Claude Juncker in his state of the union address last week.