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The Author's Bundle of Rights: Understanding Your Literary Ownership

Updated on February 8, 2023
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Based in the Philippines, I love the unconventional, and a keen eye for detail drives my imaginative storytelling. I am always reading.

Authors generally have all the rights to their works unless they sell them. As long as it is something that you write, then the copyright is yours. Plagiarising your work is an infringement of your copyright, and you can demand monetary damages from the offending party.

If you aim to become a successful author earning millions from royalties, then it is imperative that you understand what rights you have. Here are some common legal rights that an author owns:

All Rights

All rights is the type of right to own your work. As much as possible, you should not grant your publisher this particular right. Otherwise, it will be impossible for you to use the same work again. Moreover, the one you signed away all rights to will end up becoming the owner of your work. Meaning, that party will be the one who will have the privilege of earning monies from your masterpiece.

Electronic Rights

Any literary work can be published electronically. There are many forms of electronic publication for your book, but the most common one is the ebook. The right to publish ebooks, or any other electronic versions, is called the electronic rights. If you only want to sign away your ebook rights, then confirm that your contract says exactly that. Otherwise, your publisher might find a loophole, which ends with you losing your rights to other features such as video and audio versions.

Exclusive Rights

Most publishers don't want their published books to be published anywhere else when they are publishing it. After all, it will just divide the market for that book and will lower the publisher's profits. Publishers normally request to publish a work without it appearing anywhere else simultaneously. The right you grant in such a case is the exclusive rights. Exclusive rights can be valid for three months, six months, one year, or whatever the contract states.

First Serial Rights

If your masterpiece is fresh from the oven - meaning, you've just finished writing and proofreading it - then you still have the first serial rights to sign away. This particular right is granted to the first publisher of your novel. Once the first serial of your book is published and sold in the market, then all the rights will revert to you.

Reprint Rights

When the right to publish your work first has already been signed away, you still have the reprint rights at your disposal. Reprint right is the type of right that allows a publisher to print your novel a second time. In some cases, the reprint right is also called a second serial right.

Subsidiary Rights

When you give a publisher the right to publish your novel, you may or may not provide them with the subsidiary right. This particular right is what allows the publisher to license your masterpiece to others. It will include first serial rights, reprint rights, film rights, translation rights, merchandising rights, performance rights, and many more.

One-Time Rights

If you only want a publisher to publish your book one time, then you can grant that publisher a one-time right. This is typically a non-exclusive right allowing the author to sell the work to several publications simultaneously, typically to publications that have different audiences.

Dramatic, Motion Picture, and Television Rights

If you want to sell your work for use in plays, films, and televisions, then this particular right is what you will sign away. Be critical when checking the contract for your share. Also, pay attention to the duration listed in the contract by which this right remains valid.

Merchandising Rights

The merchandising right is mostly important for those novels with something worth turning into a merchandise. After all, the merchandising right refers to the right to create, market, and sell products based on your book, character, or setting. A good example is the Harry Potter series. Before Harry Potter wands and Hogwart uniforms are sold in the market, the author must first grant the other party with the merchandising right.

Worldwide Rights

With the growing international audience of publishing giants, the worldwide rights also come into play. Worldwide right is the type of right that allows the publisher to publish English versions of your novel around the world.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Krysmae Casano


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