Recently, a reader sent me a blog by Roy A. Barnes, a writer from southeastern Wyoming who devotes his space to the business of getting published. One of his articles provided definitions, in layman’s terms, of the legal rights publishers seek before printing a work. I thought they were useful and so, with editing, I have reprinted them here. The explanations provided apply only to contracts within the United States and nothing in this blog should not be construed as legal advice. When in doubt, consult an attorney
ALL Rights. [Once a writer sells his work it, it is no longer available for resell to any other literary publication. (Caroline’s comment: Avoid this type of contract because you lose control of your work..)
Archive Rights: [publisher wishes] to keep the work they’ve purchased available to web surfers who’ll visit their websites long after the writer’s work has initially appeared. This enables the publication to link the particular work in their “Past Issues” or “Archives” section for whatever the guidelines, contract, and/or negotiated terms with the writer stipulate.
Electronic Rights: Print-only publications won’t normally [require this] because this means the medium would need to have an electronic outlet (for instance, CD-ROM, internet displaying of a writer’s work, etc.). Those mediums which do showcase the creative non-fiction, short stories, family-themed articles, et al of writers online will be using these rights.
First Rights: [Publisher is] the first to publish [the] work anywhere, period. Now when a publication gets more specific with this kind of right, like First Worldwide Electronic Rights, it can become less restrictive because now only electronic mediums are included in this, usually the internet.
First North American Serial Rights: often sought after by magazines or newspapers on the North American continent. Selling …simultaneously to an England-based…publication in print would be fine, as long as that particular publication doesn’t desire First Worldwide Serial Rights which would conflict with the North American kind since North America is part of the world. [A … journal in England might just want First European or First British Serial Rights.
Second (or Reprint) Rights: Once a writer’s original [work] has been featured in that North American market, it may be free and clear for Second (or Reprint) Rights to other North American publications that accept previously published work. Sometimes, publications who buy writer’s works ask for the opportunity to reprint that same work, which can mean extra income for the writer.
One-time Rights: Publishers are not stipulating that they have to be the first one to publish a work, for this right means only the opportunity to publish the work one time. Writers can re-sell the work simultaneously to other publications who only implement the One-time type.
Exclusive Rights: [The publisher should] … specify how long it wants to possess the writer’s work exclusively
Non-Exclusive Rights: [After the work is published] there is no waiting time for the author to re-sell the work.
Work For Hire: An example of this is when a business contracts a tech writer to write a software program for it. It pays the writer to do the project, but the business gets full control of the project after completion. If in doubt about the rights to a publication’s guidelines … contact the editorial staff! Never submit a work without first knowing what you are potentially giving up! There’s no set standard for the way contracts and submission guidelines are crafted, so never be afraid to ask for clarification. Publications whose editors don’t state their rights issues in the submission guidelines and then won’t answer these questions posed by writers are to be avoided!
Roy A. Barnes’ articles have appeared at such publications like The Fabulist. Flash, The Busy Freelancer, The InkSpotter News, and Absolute Write