Types of Copyright for Freelance Writers and Book Authors


Here’s an explanation of various types of copyright for freelance writers and book authors, including definitions of first serial rights, reprint rights, one time rights, all rights, electronic rights, subsidiary rights, and dramatic, TV, and motion picture rights.

But first, a quip about writing:

“Most beginning writers (and I was the same) are like chefs trying to cook great dishes that they’ve never tasted themselves,” says Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael. “How can you make a great (or even an adequate) bouillabaisse if you’ve never had any? If you don’t really understand why people read mysteries (or romances or literary novels or thrillers or whatever), then there’s no way in the world you’re going to write one that anyone wants to publish. (This is the meaning of the well-known expression “Write what you know.”)”





Whether you’re contemplating writing what you know, or wondering what rights you should offer an editor or agent – you need to know what magazine, article, and book rights are for writers! Here are definitions of first serial rights, reprint rights, one time rights, all rights, electronic rights, subsidiary rights, and dramatic, TV, and motion picture rights. And, for more info for a successful writing career, click on Writer’s Market 2010.

Types of Copyright for Freelance Writers and Book Authors

“If you’ve worked as a freelance writer, you know contracts and agreements vary from publisher to publisher,” write the editors in the 2009 Writer’s Market. “It is essential that you consider all of the elements involved in a contract, whether verbal or written, and know what you stand to gain and lose…maybe you want to repurpose the article and resell it to a market that is different from the first publication…if that’s the case, then you need to know what rights to sell.”

First serial rights allow a magazine or newspaper to publish your article for the first time. If it’s limited by geography, it’s called “North American rights” or “North American first serial rights.” Some publications specify a date range for first serial rights – for instance, the contract a major health magazine mailed to me last week specified that they have the right to use the work from the publication date and “exclusive to us for 90 days after the off-sale date of the magazine.”

Second serial rights or reprint rights allow a magazine, newspaper, or book to publish an article after it’s already appeared in a different magazine, newspaper, or book. You can offer reprint rights to other publications – unless you’ve sold all rights to the article.

One time rights or simultaneous rights are nonexclusive rights. This type of copyright for freelance writers means that the magazine, newspaper or other publication can publish the work once. As the book author, you can sell your article, book, or poem to other publications at the same time – but it’s good business etiquette to tell them that you’ve sold one time rights elsewhere.

All rights means that you can never use the article, book, poem, screenplay, etc again. This type of copyright for freelance writers and book authors is probably best avoided.



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Electronic rights cover online magazines, websites, databases, CD-ROM magazine anthologies, interactive games – anything electronic or internet-based. If you only sell electronic rights, then you’re free to sell your writing to print markets (Suite101 offers this type of copyright to its freelance writers).

Subsidiary rights are found in book contracts. “This type of copyright may include various serial rights; movie, TV, audiotape, and other electronic rights; translation rights, etc,” write the editors in the 2009 Writer’s Market. “The book contract should specify who controls the rights (author or publisher) and what percentage of sales from the licensing of these rights goes to the author.”

Dramatic, TV, and motion picture rights covers the stage, TV, or movie rights. A writer can sell options to these rights to another party (an agent, perhaps), who then tries to sell the idea to actors, directors, studios, or TV networks. “Some properties are optioned numerous times, but most fail to become full productions,” write the editors in the 2009 Writer’s Market. “In those cases, the writer can sell the rights again and again.”







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If you have any questions or thoughts about these types of copyright for freelance writers and book authors, please comment below!


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3 thoughts on “Types of Copyright for Freelance Writers and Book Authors

  • Darien

    Thank you, this was very helpful. I’m an aspiring writer trying to get myself published. I’ve bookmarked this page in order to quick-reference it for later.

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi T.R.,

    I think most newspapers and magazines have a published copyright notice, stating that all letters to the editor become “property” of the newspaper once submitted.

    So, I don’t think authors of letters to the editor have any rights at all, after the letter has been voluntarily submitted.

    Laurie
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