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October 25, 2001
Establishing Your Rights Within The Global Freelance Market
by Tad Hulse

Should authors establish their own rights rather than wait to see what an editor offers? Writers have pondered this question for some time now. It's a concept many in the freelance field have never heard of but find quite compelling once they do.

The key to getting a foothold on international rights is that you must specifically give each publication what it needs, within the legal boundaries of the sale. Nothing more, nothing less, so to say. For example, a newspaper that is published in Los Angeles who is interested in your article really has no need for all North American rights. In much of the same way, a national publication has no need for world rights. If I was working with a periodical that insisted on more rights than what was needed, I would immediately increase the asking price of the article accordingly. Granted, this may cause you to lose out on the initial sale, but in the long run, it'll end up making you more money by allowing you the right to sell the piece over and over again.

Even though there happens to be certain established rights (like first North American serial rights, second serial rights, reprint rights, and so on and so forth), there are no regulations that say you cannot make up your own. I do this quite often and I know a few other writers who do it as well, based on a publication's readership, of course. 'Propaganda' happens to be an English-language, monthly magazine published in Oslo. If I offer the publisher first English-language serial rights in Norway, it leaves open the opportunity for me to sell the same article to a Norwegian-language publication. If that same article is sold to 'Aftenposten,' also a Norwegian magazine, what the publication is then acquiring is first Norwegian-language serial rights. It will go likewise with, let's say, Paris Match in France, who specifically purchases "exclusive rights within a geographical region," which leaves me free to sell exclusive French-language rights outside the designated circulation area or boundary of Paris.

It's like I've always believed; you, not the editor, nor the publisher should ever establish what rights are being bought. This is the only way to truly control what YOU own. I never discuss rights when querying or proposing an article, however, some publications do offer a written contract once an agreement is made upon assigning a piece. These agreements bring about the rights the magazine desires. If you do not agree with them, you must inform the editor immediately of the rights you are offering, see if he/she agrees, then change the contract, initial the change and submit it. This practice is not common and most editors, if you give them the rights that they specifically want, will agree to most anything (be warned though - they will have to clear it with the publisher and/or legal department in final).

You should also be cautious to ensure that the type of usage you are offering is indicated. That is, whether you are selling serial rights (for use in periodicals such as newspapers, magazines or catalogues) book rights and audio rights, or to go as far to say motion picture rights, video rights and multi-media rights (including CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs). In most cases with international freelance writers, you will often be only dealing with serial rights. For instance, if you are selling an article in Glasgow, you may be offering first UK serial rights. On the other hand, if the story is going to appear in a Malaysian publication, you can sell first Malaysia serial rights or exclusive Malaysian-language rights. The latter would also enable you to sell exclusive English-language rights within the entire country of Malaysia.

One must not forget that in this modern age of computers and the Internet, electronic rights must be systematically protected. Many publications will procure the rights to an article from you under the notion that they can utilize it in print, video or other electronic media forms. If they wish to do so, you must bring this purchasing point forward and negotiate an additional fee for it all. Otherwise, don't be surprised if you stumble upon your words in unexpected places.

Dissimilar to geographical rights, which leaves you to sell an article again and again, electronic rights, are pretty much one-time sales. There are exceptions to the rule, but you must look into them before any deal has been struck. Most e-zines or electronic trade publications will say in their Writer's Guidelines exactly how long they want the article for (i.e. first North American rights for 30, 60, 90 days from date of publication or, the right to archive the article indefinitely on the site). Unfortunately, the only leverage you may ever have is the "language" rights. Case in point, you may offer exclusive electronic rights in the English-language, which leaves you open to sell to numerous other e-zines in, say, Spanish, Italian, German, Czech, Arabic or French.

Good luck to you.

Tad Hulse is an American freelance writer who has spent the last two years traveling the world.
Currently he is based in Oslo, the capital of Norway.

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