JK Rowling is now a successful writer with one of the most valuable brands. It’s taken her just 21 years to get there. Initially, when she sent her first manuscript to publishers, she was turned down by more than 12 of them before Bloomsbury, a publishing house in London, accepted her book.
Authors starting out will rarely have an agent to look after their interests. So it’s important in those early days, for a writer to take advice on the publishing agreement before signing it. It’s the same with any project involving IP – it’s vital to get IP advice before implementing your ideas.
Why a publishing agreement is so critical
Certainly, JK Rowling’s considerable wealth didn’t result from book sales alone. However, the foundations for that wealth began with her first publishing agreement which is a critical contract.
The publishing agreement determines how the intellectual property arising may be exploited. The rights you give your publisher set out who may control the various rights in the work you create.
As the creator of the work, the writer will own the copyright in it. Therefore, the agreement should protect your copyright, and you should never give it away to the publisher. So, if your publishing agreement has a copyright assignment clause in favour of the publisher, don’t sign it before taking advice.
Most publishers will let authors keep the copyright, and will insist on having certain rights, such as the exclusive right to print, or to produce translations, licensed to them. Other rights like film, or television rights might well be left entirely to the author, while it will depend on the type of book and the publisher what happens to book club rights or similar.
At the time JK Rowling secured her first publishing deal, who could have known her books would have so much success? Yet if you are someone creating a business, or an artistic work, or piece of music, you need to assume you will be hugely successful, and not give away your rights unthinkingly.
Ownership of copyright underlies JK Rowlng’s wealth
If JK Rowling had assigned her copyright in Harry Potter to the publisher, she would not have achieved the profits and wealth that her writing gave rise to. It’s because she retained ownership of copyright that she was able to licence others to use the name on merchandise, to license the making of films, and to carve out rights to licensees of her work on a geographic basis.
Harry Potter has been registered as a trademark as have other characters, along with many designs produced around the books’ elements. Securing such IP rights or giving others the right to do so plays a crucial role in the income generated by the brand.
Once you own IP rights which are desirable to others to use, you may license a whole host of businesses in exchange for royalties. Licensing increases your revenues for as long as there is a market for your creations. And unlike physical property there is no natural limit to the number of people to whom you can give a right to use your IP. So the revenues to be earned from IP far exceed what you would be able to earn from investment in physical property like land which may only be let out to one party at a time.
Consequently JK Rowling’s creations have been used on a variety of goods and services. The movie characters have been licensed to theme parks and other organisations, and reproduced on many different merchandise. Licensing agreements are flexible as they allow you to license as much or as little of your IP as you like. JK Rowling’s creations have made billion dollar profits as a result.
In conclusion, Rowling’s considerable wealth today is all down to her intellectual property, with her biggest source of income being generated from licensing.
So the moral is to protect your IP if you have ideas to bring to the world. Whether you are an author, designer, software developer, or entrepreneur, don’t ignore IP whatever you’re creating. By taking timely advice and setting your IP strategy you will be better placed to secure essential IP assets and build your business on strong foundations. The future growth of any business is based on its IP.
Why not begin by attending my next workshop by following the link on the sidebar of this blog.