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March 23, 2015

Rights Grab: Omni Reboot (Updated)

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Do you remember Omni Magazine? Created in the 1970s by Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, it published some of the most iconic names in science fiction, along with in-depth articles on science and the paranormal. It ceased publication in 1998.

In 2013, Omni's archives were purchased by Jeremy Frommer of media company Jerrick Ventures. In addition to putting all past issues of Omni online, Frommer resurrected Omni as an online-only publication called Omni Reboot.

Omni Reboot, which describes itself as "the intersection of science, technology, art, culture, design, and metaphysics," has published features and fiction, and is open for submissions. Its website offers no details about rights or payment. However, a writer who recently received a publication offer sent me a copy of the Jerrick Ventures contract (Jerrick Ventures owns several other webzines in addition to Omni Reboot)--and it includes a major rights grab.

Here's the relevant language (my bolding):
WHEREAS, by this Agreement, Author desires to assign to Company exclusive ownership of all the rights in the Approved Entries, including the copyright herein....

Section 3. Assignment. Author does hereby irrevocably assign to Company and its successors all right, title, and interest throughout the world, in and to the Approved Entries, including without limitation, any copyrights and other proprietary rights in and to the Approved Entries in any media now known or hereinafter developed, and in and to all income, royalties, damages, claims and payments now or hereafter due or payable with respect thereto, and in and to all causes of action, either in law or in equity for past, present, or future infringement of such rights.
The contract defines Approved Entries as entries chosen for publication. So if you publish with Omni Reboot (or other Jerrick Ventures webzines), you must surrender copyright--and this is not a temporary arrangement, as is sometimes the case with copyright transfers. The contract includes no provision for authors to request that their copyrights be returned.

What about money? Some writers might be willing to consider trading copyright ownership for a fat paycheck. The contract doesn't mention rates; all it says is:
Section 2. Payment. Company shall negotiate payment with author on a per assignment basis.
However, the acceptance email received by the writer who shared the contract with me did not mention money at all. Apparently, the writer was expected to sign the contract--thereby giving up copyright--without even knowing what Omni Reboot would pay.

Last December I wrote about The Toast, whose contract included a similar copyright grab. In response to the outpouring of criticism that resulted, The Toast agreed to change its contract to ask for First North American Rights only. Might Omni Reboot do the same--and perhaps, also, be more transparent about payment? Here's hoping.

UPDATE 3/23/15: Someone tweeted a link to this post to Omni Reboot. Here's its response:


Sean Sullivan, Omni Reboot's content manager also contacted me directly, with a similar statement.

However, the contract I saw did not read like a work-for-hire contract. The US Copyright Office  defines work-for-hire as "a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment" or "a work specially ordered or commissioned." The writer submitted through Omni's submission page--so the work was not commissioned--and the contract not only makes no mention of work-for-hire, it is very specific about designating the writer an independent contractor, rather than an employee:
Section 7. Relationship. Nothing contained in this Agreement shall be construed as creating a joint venture, partnership, agency, or employment relationship between Author and Company....Author shall at all times be an independent contractor (and not an employee or agent of the Company)
I've requested that Mr. Sullivan clarify if I'm misreading any of this, and also, if this was the wrong contract, that he share the correct one with me. I'll update this post when I hear back.

UPDATE 3/30/14: As of today, Sean Sullivan has not responded to my request, nor shared the "correct" contract. In the meantime, I've heard from another writer who was offered the "incorrect" contract--which shows, if nothing else, that this is not an isolated incident.

9 comments :

Gareth-Michael Skarka said...

I raised the issue with them on Twitter --

Here is the response:

https://twitter.com/OmniReboot/status/580080690697412611

Victoria Strauss said...

Thanks for letting me know--I responded on twitter and am updating my post as well.

Dennis Latham said...

Why would any writer sell all rights to anything, unless the pay was too good to turn down. But then who would sign a contract without knowing the amount of pay? Who comes up with these ideas to take all rights forever?

Mike Bradley said...

You're right, Virginia. It can't be a WFH if it wasn't commissioned, that is, if Omni Reboot didn't specifically request the article. Furthermore, courts have held that the request has to come before the work begins; post hoc WFH is invalid. The request can be oral or written, but both parties must agree to WFH before the work begins, and eventually they must document the agreement in writing.

Ben Brennan said...

"I will give you a little something. Now, I want EVERYTHING from you," is inexcusable. That sort of thing is more of an insult than an offer.

Big Publishing has lost so many opportunities and so much of their former power because of such heavy-handed tactics.

Victoria Strauss said...

I agree with you in principle, Ben, but I think it's a pretty major stretch to consider Omni Reboot part of Big Publishing.

Victoria Strauss said...

More on OmniReboot, which published Joshua Foust's story without permission, and then hastily removed it: http://joshuafoust.com/omni-reboot-needs-to-fess-up/.

David Williams said...

My sense, having not read this before I pitched OmniReboot a story recently, is just that they're muddling along with staffing issues and organizational mess. The contract they sent me was totally different, with my copyright strongly retained. As well they should be, as this ain't a payin' gig. The specific language in their contract with fiction authors:

"Author grants to the Company a royalty-free, worldwide, non-exclusive license to publish, reproduce, display, distribute, and use the Article in any form and in any media, in whole or in part, either separately or as part of a collective work, including but not limited to a nonexclusive license to publish the Article on the Websites, copy and distribute individual reprints of the Article, authorize reproduction of the entire Article in another publication, and authorize reproduction and distribution of the Article or an abstract thereof in electronic media. The Author retains ownership of all rights under copyright in the Article (or portion of the work written by the Author), and all rights not expressly granted in this Agreement."

Perfectly acceptable, as non-exclusivity and ownership retention are repeatedly affirmed.

Jonathan Holden said...

I am definitely not going to be publishing with OMNI with this kind of track record (following was posted July 7, 2015):

http://joshuafoust.com/omni-reboot-needs-to-fess-up/

I also see a plethora of typos and other editorially negligent issues in the articles that they have published. This is not the OMNI I remember growing up with.

 
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