Editorial input

Since seeing The Wife last year, I’ve been mulling over the blurry edges of authorship.  The Glenn Close character rewrites her husband’s first novel, which is published in his name, and ends up watching him collect a Nobel Prize for ‘his’ impressive contribution to literature.

This extreme situation made me start thinking about the (much smaller) editorial contributions which I and my colleagues make.  We don’t discuss it much.  Most of us feel that any editorial input to a book or screenplay is the rightful property of the writer.

Agents, publishers, script editors, and producers often discuss work in progress with the writer, and contribute ideas and comments to a greater or lesser extent.  Sometimes we offer thoughts that are adopted by the writer, and the resulting work is changed significantly.

I was interested to read this legal report this morning:  https://www.harbottle.com/martin-v-kogan/

There are some conclusions to draw from this.  First, if a writer accepts a large contribution from a friend, family member, etc, they should discuss this with them and make it right with them, to avoid a future claim.

Second, it’s a good idea to get comments from a small number of people, rather than just one or two.  I believe that professionals will continue to be happy to nurture work in progress without claiming ownership of any contributions.  Certainly there is no copyright in ideas, and if an agent, publisher or producer did decide to challenge a writer for their earnings, there would normally be only a flimsy basis.  We can continue the glorious, fascinating process of discussing developing new projects, but it’s worth bearing this issue in mind.  (Meg)