Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Know Your Copyrights and Rights Publishers Buy

A copyright is a form of protection provided to creators of original works, published or unpublished. It is not necessary to include a copyright notice on unregistered work unless you feel your work is not safe without it. Example of copyright notice: © (year of work, your name) For more information on copyright (not legal) go to the Library of Congress Web site: There are also FAQ’s and forms to download.

Below is a list of publishing rights with a short definition that you will most often sell to publishers. Also before signing any contract, take time to read and understand what rights it specifies before signing. An agent will often help sort out these issues but for those of us who are just starting out, we are our own agent and sometimes our own publisher. As you can tell, a career in writing or illustrating involves more than just talent.

First Rights. The buyer purchases the rights to use the work for the first time in any medium. All other rights remain with the creator.

One-time rights. The buyer has no guarantee that she is the first to use a piece. One-time permission to run written work or illustrators is acquired, and then the rights revert back to the creator.

First North American serial rights. This is similar to first rights, except that companies who distribute both in the U.S. and Canada will stipulate these rights to ensure that another North American company won’t come out with simultaneous usage of the same work.

Second serial (reprint) rights. In this case, newspapers and magazines are granted the right to reproduce a work that has already appeared in another publication. Proceeds from reprint rights for a book are often split evenly between the author and his publishing company.

Simultaneous rights. More than one publication buys one-time rights to the same work at the same time. Use of such rights occurs among magazines with circulations that don’t overlap, such as many religious publications.

All rights. Just as it sounds, the writer, illustrator, or photographer relinquishes all rights to a piece—she no longer has any say in who acquires rights to use it.

Foreign serial rights. Be sure before you market to foreign publications that you have sold only North American—not worldwide—serial rights to previous markets.

Syndication rights. This is a division of serial rights.

Subsidiary rights. These include serial rights, dramatic rights, book club rights, or translation rights. The contract should specify what percentage of profits from sales of these rights goes to the author and publisher.

Display rights or electronic publishing rights. They’re also known as “Data, Storage, and Retrieval.” Usually listed under subsidiary rights, the marketing of electronic rights in this era of rapidly expanding capabilities and markets for electronic material can be tricky. If a display clause is listed in your contract, try to negotiate its elimination.

Bottom line. Always read your contract or publishing guidelines carefully. This is just basic information. For a more in-depth look check your local library or bookstore for books and magazines to help you.

Write it down,


  1. Carma,
    Thank you. Your post is a wonderful guide for writers. I am going to keep a copy for my own use.

    What a great resource you are.


  2. Thank you Judy, that means a lot to me. I felt a lot better about copyright after looking up this information. Something that I did not post too was that copyrighting also encourages creation of new works because it guarantees the creator the right to sell in the market place.

    So there is no reason to hold on to your work unless you don't want anyone to read it. That's another story all together.

    Thanks for the great comment.