How Getting Canceled on Social Media Can Derail a Ebook Deal


Regnery, the Conservative publisher who signed Mr. Hawley after Simon & Schuster dropped his book, also has a moral clause – what Thomas Spence, its president and publisher, called the “infamous 5F of our contract”. Regnery won’t take it out.

“This is the only thing in our contract that I have virtually no discretion about,” he said. “I was told it had to be in there.” The moral clause in Mr. Hawley’s new contract is not a contentious issue, Spence added.

A representative for Mr. Hawley did not respond to requests for comment.

Other companies, particularly in the media, entertainment, and sports sectors, have long used moral clauses. Stuart Brotman, a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who has studied these clauses, said they were in old Hollywood movie deals – he said a moral clause allowed Paramount Pictures to find comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle during the silence dropping the movie-era after he was accused of sexually assaulting and accidentally killing a woman. He was eventually found not guilty. In the 1970s, actor Wayne Rogers left the show “M * A * S * H” because he did not want to sign a moral clause.

In the book world, executives say these clauses were part of Christian publishing agreements before they became fixtures in mainstream deals. Televangelist Benny Hinn was dropped by his publisher Strang Communications for violating the Moral Turpitude Provision in 2010 after he got into a relationship with another minister prior to his divorce.

Agents and executives say high profile implosions like that of celebrity chef Paula Deen in 2013 caused mainstream publishers to protect themselves. Ms. Deen admitted in a legal statement that she had previously used racist language and allowed racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and sexist jokes in one of her restaurants and within about a week in companies like Sears, Kmart, the Food Network and Walmart, they would cut or break the connection with her. Her publisher, Ballantine Books, announced a five-book deal.

The clauses spread faster after the #MeToo movement exposed allegations of wrongdoing against many public figures, including Mark Halperin, a journalist and author whose 2017 book deal was terminated by Penguin Random House under its conduct clause.

Today, Penguin Random House requires conduct clauses in all contracts – this way, the company says the publisher doesn’t imply trusting Author A but not Author B. Even some smaller publishers like Abrams are demanding them, but according to Dan Simon, a founder of the independent publisher Caucus, the clauses are unusual among independent publishers.