No one can come and claim ownership of my work. I am the creator of it, and it lives within me.
When you get started writing, you may have a lot of questions about what’s in a contract. (If you don’t have a written contract, stop working right now and get one!) One area to pay attention to is who owns the rights to your work.
Let’s look what you may find.
Work Made for Hire
In a commercial capacity, you will often be doing what’s called “work made for hire.” The company or individual hiring you owns the rights for your work. Even if you have a byline, the company owns your work, so you cannot go sell the same piece to another company. You also don’t get additional compensation outside the negotiated rate if the company decides to repurpose your work for other uses, such as a newsletter, infographic, video or printed material. So ensure that you get adequate compensation upfront.
If you create an original work, whether a post for your own website, an ebook or a video, on your own, not under a contract, you own the copyright for that work. You have the option to sell your original work to a publication in which case you will be asked to give up some rights to the work. Be diligent in reading through any contract and know exactly what rights you’re selling.
Serial Rights and Reprint Rights
In days past when you would pitch to printed magazines, First North American Serial Rights were pretty common. This means you are allowing a publication to print your piece first and then the copyright returns to you after a set time like 3 months or 6 months.
You can then sell the work elsewhere under Reprint Rights or Second Serial Rights. You could also sell One-Time Rights, meaning the outlet can publish your work once and then the rights return to you.
With most publications going online, however, it’s been much more common for outlets that accept journalistic pieces to ask for All Rights. This means intellectual property, copyright and moral rights in perpetuity. But that puts you in a tough position, especially if you’re poorly compensated.
Unfortunately, these terms are in contracts with big-name publishing houses and news outlets, so it’s hard to push back, especially when you need the paycheck. However, it’s always worth asking for a change if you don’t like the terms. Then, decide how much the work means to you, whether you can get more money by self-publishing or turning your pieces into a book.
Repurposing Your Work
Keep in mind that each time, you’re only selling that one specific piece. You can repurpose some of your effort — expand on your research and write another article on the same subject with a different focus, different audience and different tone to pitch to another publication.
The Freelancers Union advocates for the rights of freelancers and offers a free Limited Use Contract Template to help you protect the rights to your work.
What experience have you had with copyright?
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