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article imageOp-Ed: Mob rule — Publishers vs writers morality clauses

By Paul Wallis     Jan 4, 2019 in Business
New York - As America daily uninvents itself, absurdities and obscenities abound. Not least of these is the bizarre “morality clause” now being forced upon writers. Seems the laziest people on Earth, publishers, are worried about scandals.
The theory of morality clauses is well explained by a lady called Judith Shulevitz in the New York Times. She explains with admirable patience the mechanics of morality clauses, which apply as legally binding terms of contract to writers. More disturbingly, she also refers to a large number of high profile global publishers.
Apparently it’s not just the craziness that’s gone mainstream; it’s the cowardice as well.
This morality clause issue boils down to any public incident in which the writer’s past or present conduct results in “public condemnation”. …Or, to put it another way, when anyone is accused of anything, their contract can be voided, your publisher’s advance can be required to be returned, etc., etc.
Even Conde Nast, publishers of the often excellent New Yorker and other top quality magazines and websites, are trying to enforce morality clauses. Writers are objecting, but you can see the issues where some new writer gets their big break, signs a morality clause, and is suddenly expected to turn in to St Francis of Assisi, past, present, and future.
The irony is that “onerous” clauses in contracts may be unenforceable, or actually illegal, by imposing impossible conditions. Obviously, that’s for the courts to decide, but given the state of the Supreme Court….?
Constitution? What Constitution?
Quaint, isn’t it? This is an actual legal scenario in the country where under the Constitution, due process, the presumption of innocence, and the Fifth Amendment are all in force. All it takes is some sort of scandal, real or imaginary, and you’re out of a contract, out of money, and all while you’re going through some sort of media hell.
On the basis of this degree of sheer spinelessness on the part of publishers, this situation has arisen. Even more bizarre, publishers are conscientiously cutting their own throats in another, less obvious, way. Instead of being influential, publishing the truth, exposing whatever needs exposing, you’re now grovelling. Anyone or anything which doesn’t like what’s published can now use your own contracts to derail anything published, however accurate, simply by accusing authors of anything.
How dumb are you?
That dumb.
Consider:
1. Publishers, who can easily distance themselves in so many ways from any legal liability, real or perceived, from writers, are suddenly worried about public opinion?
2. The Bible would never have been published if these morality clauses were in force. Pick any section of the Bible, and see how long you can go without some sort of questionable moral issues. Has the Bible ever been controversial? Would you publish it? Could you, on that basis?
3. Obviously, the most irrational legal options possible must be put in to contracts. This may be for no other reason than that some lawyers would like to make some money by writing contracts which could well be grounds for legal action/ class actions against the publishers. (Which could well be the case if a single court action against these morality clauses wins.)
Mob rule by non-existent people
Arguably more insane is the fact that “public condemnation”, aka Twitter mobs and other no doubt highly credible people, non-existent or otherwise, can have any influence at all on private contracts. A lot of social media doesn’t come from real people. It comes from bots. Thousands of bots. Millions of bots. This is particularly the case in automated political trolling, for example.
The huge numbers of social media waves are automatically generated every time someone wants to have a tantrum. Anyone can be targeted for the most fraudulent reasons. This morality hysteria simply means any and every accusation will work to injure anybody who dares to write a book or any other type of article.
This is giving the world’s trolls more power than even the most insane megalomaniacal ultra-conservative could wish to have. Any tantrum by the Alt Right directed at anyone, any critic, any journalist, could in theory be grounds for legal action. This is pure fantasy in real law, but as an enforceable contract term, it’s real trouble for all involved.
Note that there is absolutely no basis for any accusations or reputational issues to be grounded in fact. It’s almost legalizing and legitimizing wilful defamation, in that sense.
Listen, you gutless, mindless, personality-free publishing morons, the whole history of humanity is morally questionable. The past is morally questionable, and the future is quite likely to be morally questionable, too. Fake accusations have been around as long as humanity. If you don’t like it, move to another planet.
On a more personal note – I’m a writer. Show me a clause like that and the first thing you’ll hear from me is a not particularly polite question, asking where you want your face sent. You guys are an insult to the whole ideas of humanity, literature, free speech, and personal integrity on the part of writers. I’ll respond accordingly.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about publishing and morality clauses, Judith Shulevitz, Conde Nast, Penguin, Random house
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