Morals Clauses in Contracts

What is the issue?

A practice that started in contracts in the US and UK appears to be spreading to Canada. Publishers are inserting “morals” or “morality” clauses into author contracts. Such clauses give publishers overly broad rights to cancel contracts and/or continued publication if the author is publicly accused of immoral or illegal behaviour. They therefore unduly constrain authors, and can render them powerless to protect their work and incomes in the face of frivolous accusations.

What TWUC is doing

TWUC is advocating with the publishing sector to remove morals clauses from their contracts. Furthermore, we advise members who come across such clauses in contracts to challenge them and ask for their removal. We feel these clauses give far too much power to publishers to back out of agreed-upon publication, and they subvert the traditional relationship of the publisher to the work. Publishers should perform their own due diligence ahead of publication to assure themselves they wish to work with a given author. The subjective nature of the wording in these clauses may also constrain an author from behaviour that is perfectly legal, but which offends the sensibilities of a pressure group.

TWUC is working closely with international colleague organizations on a global call for updated contract terms for a new age of publishing. The International Authors Forum has prepared Ten Principles for Fair Contracts (link below) to help to inform writers when they are reviewing contracts on offer.

For more information on contracts in general, please see TWUC’s Fair Contracts advocacy page.

What you can do

ALWAYS read your contract carefully before signing it. If you find a morals clause, open a discussion with your publisher about removing it, or at the very least ask for it to be amended to make clear the clause will only be involved in the most extreme circumstances.

Hire a lawyer to review and suggest changes to the document, with fair contract principles in mind. Take advantage of TWUC’s free contract advice for members. Make your prospective publisher aware of the Ten Principles of Fair Contracts, and your intention to see them followed.

Further reading

TWUC’s advocacy is most effective as the collective voice of Canada’s professional authors. We are stronger together. If you are not already a member of TWUC and are working as a writer, consider joining the Union. If you wish to support TWUC’s advocacy outside of membership, consider donating to the Union.