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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Q&A: Giving Away All Rights

Question: A publication has accepted some articles that I wrote. Their policy gives them exclusive rights to reproduce submitted material at their sole discretion. They can also syndicate it to other media. Basically, they ask to own all copyrights to the submitted articles. In return, I will receive a portion of the proceeds if they happen to sell the articles to another outlet.

I just wanna know the implications (for me as a writer) of such a copyright policy.

~A Sister in Islam

Answer: Before I answer, let me say that you should not consider my response the final say on this topic (or any other, for that matter). I can only give you my opinion based on the limited information posed in your question and my own perspective based on what I have seen elsewhere.

It is generally agreed among writers that you should try to retain as many rights as possible when submitting articles for publication. There are some exceptions, like when you are getting paid so much money that you don't mind the magazine taking certain rights. There is, for example, a big difference between getting paid $2000 and $20 for the same article. Another exception might be when the magazine has enough prestige that you are willing to compromise on rights for the honor and distinction of being published within its pages. And then there are certain work-for-hire agreements where the company is paying you to create a unique product that cannot be used elsewhere.

But, even if you are being paid $3 per word at a high-level magazine (wouldn't that be nice?), you still have the ability to negotiate. The worst they can really do is say no, and then you can make your final decision.

Retaining the rights to your articles means that you can sell them elsewhere as reprints so that you can multiply your returns on the same article several times over if you know which markets to target. I would not want to lose that opportunity.

It is a positive sign that the publication you are dealing with will cut you a portion of the proceeds if they manage to sell your articles elsewhere. I know of some very legitimate publications that do this. But these publications also have the prestige and high-pay factor that would make it worthwhile for most authors.

Does the publication you are dealing with have a good track-record when it comes to re-selling articles?

How will you know when they make a sale?

Are you okay with the articles potentially being offered for free to other publications?

Will you retain your by-line or lose all credit?

Do you, on your own, have the ability to re-sell the articles by targetting suitable markets?

Do they want all rights or shared rights (still allowing you to market your own work)?

Can you negotiate a higher fee in exchange for giving up more rights?

Insha'Allah, these questions may help you weigh the pros and cons of this deal. I also suggest reading this article for a detailed explanation of rights and copyrights as it applies to freelance writing.

Readers, kindly share your opinions below. Would you agree to such an arrangement?

Amel S. Abdullah

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered on this blog? Post it here, or send it to me via e-mail. All questions sent via e-mail will be posted anonymously (unless you request otherwise). Click here for an index of all questions answered on this blog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As Salaam'alaykum

I personally never agree to give away/sell my copyright for any of my work. I never agree to share my copyright either.

I offer to give first publication rights and will agree to not seek republishing of the work elsewhere for a specific period of time.. 6 months.. a year depending on what I am paid for the work.

This applies to any work I donate. I always retain my ownership of my coyright. If you give it away or sell it then the new owner can resell it, give it away, publish it in an anthology... literally do whatever the new owner wants with it including altering the content and excluding your name and/or original byline when the work was first published. The new owner can sell translation rights and licensing rights for fees that you will not share in.

The reason for having copyright in the first place is to protect the ownership of the writer for the writer's work.

I feel strongly enough about this that I turned down several publishing opportunities at a well-known online website that has well-over a million visitors annually. I am not getting any name recognition from my work published there...but I am using my work in other ways which are in the long run more beneficial to my over-all efforts.

Each author needs to consider this carefully... weighing the pros and cons before deciding to give away/sell ownerhip of his/her work.

Linda Delgado
Muslim Writers Publishing

This blog is maintained by Amel Abdullah, a freelance writer, editor, and Arabic to English translator.