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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Writers Beware - Era Publications

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The Quality of Mercy:

The Bitter End of Era Publications

Rob Parnell

You may remember that some time last year I told you about my darling wife's battle with her former publisher, Era Publications.

I thought that fair warning to writers to stay away from this small time education publisher would be enough - because the outcome of Robyn's longstanding arbitration with Era wasn't known at the time. 

However, it is now.

And after all the fuss, Robyn was proved right.  

Era Publications, more specifically its MD, Rodney Martin, was found liable for non payment of royalties, underpayment of royalties and deliberate mis-attribution of copyright of Robyn Opie's work. 

In January this year, the appointed arbitrator ruled that Robyn should be paid back-royalties, damages, and to also pay almost 80% of the substantial legal costs - with interest.

A punitively large monetary sum was ordered that Era apparently can barely afford. (They still haven't paid it all yet.)

That should have been the end of it, right?

I mean, it's embarrassing enough for a publisher to be found liable for these things. It's every publisher's nightmare, surely. You'd want to keep it quiet if possible - and ideally for it never to have found its way onto a public platform in the first place.

In the corporate world, all kinds of out of court settlements go on to keep things like creative accounting, fraud and other wrongdoing out of the spotlight. Most CEOs would run a mile rather than have their dirty linen exposed.

Rodney Martin is apparently made of stronger stuff.

His response to being found liable for non payment and underpayment of author royalties and other breaches of copyright?

You'll never guess...

To make things even worse!

Not content to have committed the ultimate sin in a writer's eyes - to put someone else's name on ONE book - he's actually having ALL of Robyn's 68 'Era' books systematically rewritten by other authors!

Yes, you read that right. 

Specifically, he's taking the illustrations from Robyn's books, handing them to other writers and asking them to come up with their own stories to fit round the pictures. (We have proof of this, BTW.)

I jest not.

I guess Robyn should be flattered that her books were so wonderful that Rodney Martin can't face life without them - or at least almost exact facsimiles of them.

But it's like someone taking the pictures from a Superman comic, rewriting the dialog and captions and trying to pass it off as a completely different comic called Superb Man! And then never acknowledging inside the cover that the original even existed.

Not surprisingly, the books recently produced by Era in this way have ended up looking strikingly similar (the legal term is substantially) to Robyn's books - right down to style, formatting, word use, cover design and overall feel and presentation. 

And there's 34 of them in print already!

As a member of the Australian Publisher's Association myself, I can honestly say that if ever there was a publisher's model of what not to do - and to do it so obviously, this is it! 

For a long time now during the last three and half years I've had to call into question the integrity of a man like Rodney Martin.

Now, I'm forced to question his sanity.

Who in their right mind would deliberately set out to copy an author's books - which, by the way, he no longer has under contract, to simply remove the original author's name and replace it with someone else's?

(Even his own name on one book so far! Now that's funny.)

The Copyright Act was set up in 1968 to stop this kind of blatant tomfoolery. 

Normally, real publishers understand how the Copyright Act works - and appreciate the ethics and the legal and moral validity of its tenets.

Not so Mr Martin, who appears to regard the Copyright Act as merely a 'set of guidelines' that he clearly has no respect for. And this from a man who has a seat on Copyright Agency Limited's committees!

What is going on here?

Talk about hypocrisy.

Does Mr Rodney Martin of Era Publications really believe that simply repackaging an author's work with someone else's name on it actually makes it a different product?

Oh yes - he's already been found liable for doing just that.

Silly me.

But to add insult to injury, his latest cross claim in the District Court is for Robyn to pay damages to him for losing his rights to publish her works - presumably so that she ends up paying for his folly!

The mind boggles. 

I'm sure Rodney Martin's lawyers are already booting up their computers, scrabbling for their mice, desperate to get this article removed from the Net.

On what theory?

Defamation? It's only defamation is if it's not true. It's only libel if I'm making this up!

It's a free country, mate. I can say what I like. 

The other writers Era has under contract might be too scared to stand up to Mr Martin - and dare to question their suspiciously dwindling royalty payments like Robyn did - but we're not. 

The thing is that, if you're going to do the wrong thing, you eventually have to take responsibility for the messages you send out via your beliefs and actions, however misguided or perhaps, in your own mind, noble.

It's all about integrity - and the truth.

And writers deserve to know the truth about you, Rodney.

And that is:

You seem to have little or no respect for authors' rights.

Check. Got that.

You probably think that the whole world is wrong and you are right.

Check. Understood.

You've already wasted over half a million dollars - at least - fighting a case that you created through your own pigheadedness.

Check. Agreed.

Now you want to go public, spend much more than your company can probably afford and deliberately subject yourself to the shame, humiliation and scorn that losing this futile quest to overturn 45 years of copyright law will inevitably bring about.

Well, my friend, if that's what you want...

Actually, Robyn and I are looking forward to it.

Because the silly man just won't back down. Won't settle. Won't do the right thing. Won't even admit to some errors of judgment he might have made in the past as a businessman. 

He can't. We know that now. It's not in his nature. Maybe, like many old school Australian men, he's just too proud to ever admit he's been caught out - something he probably never expected to happen... 


But, together Robyn and I will weather the storm. Three and half years of this ongoing battle has galvanized us for more positive action.

And we're ready for it. In it till the bitter end.

Because seeing Rodney Martin - and his Era Publications - publicly brought to account for his insultingly cavalier attitude towards copyright, royalty payments and author's rights has actually given our lives real meaning.

Justice is a strong motivator.

And if people like Robyn and I don't fight for writer's rights - and perhaps just a little respect - then who else should?

Bring it on! 

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Keep Writing!
 rob at home

"All change, all production and generation are effected through the word." Leopold Sedar Senghor 

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