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Different Types Of Literary Rights
The Legalities of a Written Work
This article is not for those who are uninterested in publishing your work, whether it be a poem, article or book.
However, for those who do have interest in publication, there are certain rights that you must consider. As the author of your work, you hold all rights to your work after you finish the writing stage. Once you move to the marketing stage and actually find someone willing to publish, you must be aware of the different definitions of rights in the publishing field. Knowledge is power when it comes time to negotiate with a publisher, so this article is designed to arm you with that knowledge so you can make an informed decision.
As a general rule of thumb, the more rights that you sign away, the less control you have over your work and the money that you are paid. It is all well and good to get published. Just be sure you understand the business side of any transaction before signing on the dotted line.
Thoughts on writers' rights
Helpful article regarding rights and contracts
FIRST SERIAL RIGHTS
This offer is to a newspaper or magazine to publish your work for the first time and first time only. Many times the words “North American” precede First Serial to specify a particular geographical location.
This does not mean it cannot be published in some other newspaper or magazine. It simply means that you are promising that the contracted agent will be the first to have you work appear in their publication.
ONE TIME RIGHTS
This is the least-limiting type of rights to be granted. It is often called “simultaneous rights” because you have the freedom to sign a contract with one or more publications for the same work. There are, in fact, no limitations to these rights at all.
For example, if you write an article about preparing for a roadtrip, you could sell it to magazines in all fifty states if you signed one time rights with each publication.
SECOND SERIAL REPRINT RIGHTS
These are rights given to a newspaper or magazine to publish your work after it has already appeared in another source. These are often called “nonexclusive rights” and they mean exactly what they sound like.
In essence, if you sign an “all rights” contract for one of your pieces, you are signing over all ownership of that work forever. Once you have signed away all rights, you have no ownership or control of that piece of writing, and any monies gained after you have signed away your rights will never find their way to your bank account.
In today’s competitive world, there is very little reason to ever sign all of your rights away. If it is good enough to sell to one publication, it is good enough to sell to another, so avoid at all costs signing away all rights.
This is the new kid on the block with regards to publishing rights, and it refers to a wide range of electronic media including online magazines, interactive games, databases and online anthologies.
If you feel the need to sign away electronic rights, specify exactly which electronic media the contract covers.
Usually this refers only to books written, and it covers other rights outside of the book publication. For instance, if your book is made into a movie or television series, those would fall under subsidiary rights. Audiotapes, translation rights, and promotional materials like tshirts, mugs and posters would also fit into this category.
Keep in mind that you need to negotiate for a percentage of sales from the licensing of these rights, and you must also specify in the contract who controls the rights, either the author or the publisher.
DRAMATIC, TELEVISION AND MOTION PICTURE RIGHTS
As it appears, these are subsidiary rights, often purchased as a one-year option for a percent of the total price.
For example, after you have written a book, you are approached by a movie producer who is interested in selling your idea to a motion picture company for production. They would sign a one year option with you, meaning they have one year control of your book options, during which time they will try to find a motion picture company willing to make the movie. If, after one year, there is no movie deal, you are free to sll these rights to a new company.
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Your First Responsibility Is to Yourself
Writers are….well, writers! By nature they are not marketing experts and they rarely have any legal background. The good news is that you know how to write well enough so that someone is interested in buying your work. The bad news is you need to be aware of legalities so you don’t get taken to the proverbial cleaners.
If you find yourself in the enviable position of having found a publisher interested in you, make sure you understand what you are signing on that contract. If you do not understand the terminology or meaning of your rights, seek counsel before signing away your rights. You worked hard to get to that place. Now it is time to reap the rewards.
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)