Beware of Selling Your Rights

Learning about Writer’s Rights

by Deborah Owen

Most creative writers are so eager to sell their work that they don’t stop to consider what rights they are selling. “Rights” refers to how a publisher can use your work. “Rights” has nothing to do with what you are paid or the copyright of your work.

  • First North American Serial Rights − Known as FNASR, are the most common rights purchased. The purchasing magazine has the right to publish the author’s work for X amount of dollars, while the author grants the magazine permission to publish his story (or article) one time in North America. If you are offering these rights to a magazine, place “Offering First North American Serial Rights” at the top of the document.
  • One-Time Serial Rights – If you are simultaneously offering your story or article to several publications, place “One-Time Serial Rights” at the top of the page. This grants the first magazine that snaps up your work the right to publish your story or article one time.
  • Second Serial Rights – If you have previously sold the story or article, you will be offering Second Serial Rights to the next magazine. They will be able to publish your work once.
  • All Rights – Unless someone is hiring you to develop a piece of work for them (such as developing a course for a school) shudder at the sight of these rights. It means you are signing away “all rights” to whoever bought your work. You may never sell the work again, publish it, copy it, download it, or transfer it. You have no rights left whatsoever.
  • Work for Hire – This is another “right” that should cause you to shiver. Work for Hire can only exist in two ways: you have created a document as an independent contractor and you are selling the rights to it, or you are being paid as an employee and your work was created during your work time – which gives your boss all rights.
  • Non-Exclusive Rights – This one is not desirable either. Although the “rights” refer back to you after one year and you can sell the work again, the original buyer may continue to use it and reproduce it in syndication without sharing the profits with you.
  • Exclusive Rights – If you sign these rights, you have given away the farm. An example of this would be Associated Content and other like places that assume full rights when they buy your work. You will not be able to reproduce it or sell it again. It’s gone. Ker-plunk! Down the toilet.
  • One-Time Rights – You can sell one-time rights simultaneously to as many people as you want. Columnists use this right to sell their articles to multiple markets.

As you can see, there is only the difference of a hair’s breadth on some of these rights. There are many more types of rights, so understand them thoroughly before you sign on the dotted line.

Keep this article in your safe and don’t sign anything without referring to it!

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