Monday, March 19, 2007

Freelancers: Know Your (Serial) Rights!

An excerpt from Copyright Companion for Writers, by Tonya M. Evans-Walls. Available at and your favorite bookstore.

DISCLAIMER: The author is not engaged in rendering legal or other professional services as a result of the information contained in this article, nor is this article meant to constitute legal or other professional advice. If legal or other professional assistance is required, the services of an attorney should be sought to discuss your individual needs since all legal issues are fact-specific.

When you transfer to a publisher the right to publish your work, you should spell out in writing exactly what rights the publisher has acquired. This doesn't need to be a formal document—a series of e-mails confirming the arrangement is certainly acceptable. But whatever the method of memorializing the deal, it should be clear whether the publisher is acquiring first serial rights, second serial rights (also known as reprint rights), all rights, or whether the publisher has commissioned you to create a work as a work made for hire to be used in a collective work. The following list will help you distinguish among these various rights.

First Serial Rights

The publisher acquires the right to publish your unpublished work before anyone else does. Consider limiting this transfer by indicating a particular territory (North America) and language (English). Note: In publishing contracts, the terms "North America" and "South America" have specific meaning that differs from what you learned in geography class. In the contracts, sometimes "North America" includes Canada and sometimes it doesn't, so be sure to confirm whether the publisher intends to include Canada.

Second serial Rights (aka reprint rights)

The publisher acquires the right to publish your work after the first serial publication.

Works Made for Hire

This means that the publisher—not you, the writer—owns the copyright. Try to avoid this if possible unless you receive adequate financial compensation. Parties to a work-made-for-hire situation must agree to such before you begin working (although it can be reduced to writing thereafter) or else these agreements are generally not valid because of the way copyright comes into existence (see chapters 2 and 5 of Copyright Companion for Writers for more information about copyright and work made for hire).

One-time rights

Sometimes a newspaper editor seeks one-time rights, meaning the right to publish your article once, regardless of whether that newspaper is first or second in line to publish.

Check out Copyright Companion for Writers by Tonya M. Evans-Walls

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Contracts Companion for Writers by Tonya M. Evans-Walls (Spring 2007)
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