Are You A Moral Author? HarperCollins Hopes So

A new clause has been appearing in book contracts being sent out by HarperCollins to authors, reports eReads. It gives the publisher the right to end a contract with an author if “Author’s conduct evidences a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals, or if Author commits a crime or any other act that will tend to bring Author into serious contempt, and such behavior would materially damage the Work’s reputation or sales.”

In other words, Harper can cancel an author’s contract (and require her to repay her advance) if she is…immoral?

EReads explains: “Does this mean that if you covet your neighbor’s wife, Harper could cancel your contract? Probably not…Where the morals clause is more likely to come into play is when your sin damages Harper’s ability to sell your book. [Brooklyn attorney F. Robert] Stein puts it this way: “I strongly suspect that HarperCollins could care less about their authors’ morals…unless and until a moral indiscretion threatens to reduce the value of the author’s book. Imagine if former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer had, during his term in office, contracted with HarperCollins to write a book entitled I Choose to Be Purer Than Caesar’s Wife. Once Spitzer’s dalliances with multiple prostitutes became public, the potential audience for that book would likely have dropped precipitously, and HarperCollins’ ability to recoup its advance would have been seriously compromised.”

As many commenters have pointed out, “public conventions and morals” is a slippery slope. Who defines the term? It seems like a fairly clear-cut example of a company going too far.

Read the actual contract language at the original post.