Published on 12th Dec., 2016

Why and How Writers Should Retain Rights to Their Work

As a writer, the mere act of creation gives you the copyright to your work. You don’t have to file anything in triplicate or send away with a self-addressed stamped envelope for a special certificate. If you write it, it’s yours.

When you retain your rights, you are able to: - Reprint your material as you see fit - Sell to other publications - Post in your online portfolio and let editors know the piece is available for reprint - Include it in anthologies or collections - Modify the work as needed - Publish it under different titles

However, many writers are being stripped of rights during “work-for-hire” agreements. You should read your contracts carefully because many businesses are starting to include clauses that give them the rights to anything you create while you work with them—during both contract work or full-time employment. That means that even if you freelance for a site and write one 300-word blog for them, they own that material. You can’t sell it or allow another publisher to use it again.

If you see a clause in a contract that insists that you sign over your rights, there are a few things you can do.

Offer First Rights

If you’re writing the piece for the client specifically and have never sold the piece before, you can offer First North American Serial Rights. This allows the publishers to be the first in North American to publish the work. If the publisher agrees with this, the rights revert back to you after they’ve published the work.

Offer One-time Rights

If another publisher has the first rights as described above, you can offer other publications one-time rights. These rights allow the piece to be printed by a new publisher just once, but don’t guarantee that it hasn’t appeared elsewhere. Once published, the rights revert back to you.

Offer Reprint Rights

Reprint rights are like one-time rights, but they let the publisher reprint the piece a second time. Reprint rights often pay less than first rights, and many publishers consider anything previously published on your website or via self-publishing to be first rights. This means if you post an article to your blog, you own first rights and could only sell the piece with reprint rights.

There are several other creative rights variations that can be negotiating in place of “all rights” when you are signing a contract. The advice above is just a start and isn’t meant to stand in the place of legal counsel. But, be mindful of your rights and don’t hesitate to ask questions about contracts—they’re meant to be negotiated.

Amanda Ronan is a writer, editor, and book completion coach in Austin, Texas. She's the author of the My Brother is a Robot series for middle-grade readers, as well as the book A Fresh Look at Formative Assessment: 30 Simple English Language Arts Assessment ideas. Amanda loves puppies and vintage jewelry. She's undecided on the merits of cauliflower.

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