Basic Training: H is for Heaven, Send Me a Nickel . . .

Posted on June 27, 2014 in Planning & Advisors

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If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that he or she did something business-related with a friend/acquaintance and it ended disastrously, I’d be writing these blog posts from my trans-oceanic yacht.

The moral of the story (in case you’re pressed for time): Whenever you are hiring someone (or being hired) to perform any kind of creative task–writing any kind of document, drawing, photographing, painting, designing graphics/logos/websites–you must have a written agreement.

Here’s the story: Moira had kept a journal of her life story and needed someone to take the raw material and turn it into a book with a particular life lesson: how to find courage in difficult times and situations. Moira hired Andrew, an acquaintance, as a ghostwriter. He told her that they didn’t need an agreement, as it was a simple enough project. He’d just send her invoices as he worked on the project. $15,000.00 later (Moira paid each and every invoice), Andrew still wasn’t quite finished. In the meantime, Moira showed the work to an editor, who provided her with comments. Moira showed the comments to Andrew out of courtesy–and the berating began. Seems that Andrew had some underlying personal issues with being a ghostwriter (not enough recognition). He started to tear into Moira for not having “much of a story to work with” in the first place. And–this one makes my blood boil – he had the audacity to tell Moira that he had given her a discounted rate to begin with, and now wanted to recalculate what she owed him based on a higher hourly rate. In other words, she should pay him more than he originally invoiced for work that he had already done.

You can probably surmise that Moira has nary a sou to handle any litigation of this matter if it really sours. She’s in a very difficult position. Without a written agreement stating that the ghostwriting was done as a “work for hire,” she’s running the risk that the copyright rights in the work will not be properly transferred to her. What does that mean? It means that 1. She might not own the work, even though she paid for it, or 2. She could be saddled with Andrew as a “co-author” of the work. Either way, it stinks.

A project may well be “simple,” but not properly transferring the rights can turn it into a hornet’s nest. Next time you do business with friends, treat it like doing business with a stranger . . . you’ll protect both your rights and your friendship.

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