Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Publishing Rights

The small press becomes, with each passing minute, more and more of a global theatre. It has always been so, yes, as long as the world has gotten smaller, but things have sped considerably in the last hundred years, and especially in the last two decades. With the widespread access to the internet and the Established Name factor (if you don’t have one, you’re more likely to search out smaller, more hidden magazines, and especially those far from the mainstream, well-funded American literary mags), the ability to publish in the small press has broadened and intensified at the same time. No longer does a struggling poet or writer need to seek out rare and priveleged information on small magazines that aren’t near. If you have a screen and a modem, you’re eye to eye with thousands of possible avenues. With online access, you can find a magazine that fits your mode in a variety of countries, from Finland to Russia, Austria to Chile, to your next-door neighbor who plays editor to a lit-blog while sitting on the couch in his underwear. More publications across the various seas have established rapport with one another, and the world, as a publishing place, has become smaller, while your chances to print, larger.

All of these publishing opportunities are ripe and looking for good work. You might have some of it, and if you do, you may already know how your copyright on the material works. I won’t bother giving a summary of copyright law or meddle with giving you a definition, as it abounds on the internet. I’ll provide a link, if you want to look up copyright:

The meat of this post is on the subject of publishing rights, how they transfer, and what they mean. Rights, as some know and others suspect, do not refer to contract or ownership (in most cases). Rights refer to usage and license. Ever read an End User License Agreement on software you’ve installed on your computer? Even the blog service this is posted to has one. The EULA is a contract stating what you can and can’t do, what is and isn’t liable to the service, and is a lot of ass-covering on the corporate level. Some people think that rights negotiation is similar, in that you’re establishing the rules, covering your bases, and signing away the work. This is not the generally the case. Rights and their permissions are binding, as with a contract, but much simpler, and very basic. When someone requires any of the various rights to your work, they’re only asking for specific usages. They’re asking to do a specific thing with your writing, and that one thing only. Any further uses they might want will fall into other rights. The rights in question are just agreed upon fashions for them to use your work. Rights are not the same as payment, or contracts, or orders. The rights are generally on both of your sides, so they work as an effective intermediary between some of the confusing things that can happen between sending work out, and getting galleys back, or retiring a piece outright.

There are a great many rights that can be negotiated, though most publications will keep it simple and ask one or two of the more simple and understandable rights. Some longer strings of rights (First Exclusive French translation rights with International Exclusive French and Spanish Geographic Rights) are rare as hell in the small press, and it’s likely you won’t have to deal with anything like them.

I’ve compiled a list of some various, more common rights and what they mean, how they work. This should give you a better idea of what is really happening when a publication prints your work in a specific way, or asks for certain rights. I’ve chosen to stick with the more common (and a few rarities) rights transferred in the small press, and kept my hands out of others (No, you’re not going to see music rights here, even though some aspects of spoken word tracks can qualify under these, and I’m going nowhere near movie rights and other corporate forms of rights negotiation, because they don’t apply).

Electronic Rights vs. Print Rights:

The internet changed everything. We all know it. It seems almost silly to point it out. With the internet came the vast sweeping world of electronic rights (Oh, these existed before, certainly, but the internet brought them into the mainstream, everyday speech of editors who chose to work online). Some publishers differentiate between Electronic Rights and what they call Online Rights, or Internet Rights. For instance, they believe that issuing your poem as an electronic document on a CD to be electronic rights, but posting your work on their webpage would be Internet or Online rights. I don’t know if this is of legal concurrence, and I don’t think they know either. The general term is Electronic Rights.

First Rights: This is the most common right you’ll grant, as a writer, in the small press. Relegated to the FIRST time a distinct piece of writing is published in any accepted format. This includes letters to the editor, magazines, websites, blogs, even your own personal site. Writing a poem on a cinder block and throwing it through an editor’s window, however, is not an accepted form of publication, so that poem would be free to offer elsewhere for First Rights, still. You can grant this right once, and once only. After First Rights have been used or granted, even by yourself, you can never grant them again. Any subsequent printing will be a reprint.

1. First Electronic Rights: Same as above, but distinctive in the manner of electronic print. A publication asking for this is a publication asking to print the poem online or in an electronic format (In a CD issue, a .PDF file, .CBZ, etc...) for the first time. If it’s been printed elswhere online, no dice. Again, you can grant this right once in a piece’s lifetime. It is possible to grant a publication First Electronic Rights, and then later grant First Print Rights to an alternate magazine, provided these specific rights are in transfer. If you’ve transfered the more basic First Rights, with no specification, you’re on shaky ground trying to resubmit it as a First publishing in an alternate venue.

2. First Print Rights: These are First Rights with a specification toward print, and not electronic mediums. We’re talking paper and ink. Well, I once received a magazine made of plastic, but same basic idea. If you print someone’s poetry in blood on sandpaper and publish it in the public arena, that’s still Print, baby.

Exclusive Rights (sometimes referred to as Exclusivity): This involves exclusivity to print. Basically, exclusive rights indicate that a publication can print your work, but for a given length of time, rather than a single first, or one-time printing. The difference is that time is the measure, not simply the act of printing. In order to send your work on to other outlets, if you’ve sold or granted a publication Exclusivity, you will have to wait until the timeframe and conditions of the printing have expired. Most magazines will state in their guidelines this length of time if they ask for Exclusive Rights. In order to grant Exclusivity, the piece in question can not appear elsewhere in the time period agreed upon. If your work is already posted at your website, and you wish to grant Exclusivity for one of those posted works to a magazine, you’ll have to remove the work in question from your site during the interim. If you were to leave it up, it wouldn’t be very exclusive, would it?

Non-Exclusive Rights: The right to print your work, though still allowing you to submit the work elsewhere for reprint. This can be augmented for the electronic medium, as can most rights, and would then be Non-Exclusive Electronic Rights. Obviously, you can not grant exclusivity to another magazine if you have already granted Non-Exclusive rights elsewhere. Exclusivity means it isn’t anywhere else. It’s exclusive.

Perpetual Rights (sometimes referred to as Perpetual Access, and Perpetuity): The right to store your work in an archive or public place for viewing on an ongoing basis. Ever click on ‘Archives’ at the website of a magazine? Perpetual Rights have been negotiated, whether the artists or editors knew it or not. If the magazine in question is using a blog, or something similar, there will most likely be a dated archive, so Perpetual Rights are in play there. There is a more specific form of Perpetual Rights that deals exclusively with archiving, called Archive Rights.

Archive Rights: The right to archive your work. Distinguishable from Perpetual Rights in that they are specific to archival, while Perpetual Rights grant that the work can be exhibited in full view, not just stored in an archive. Most internet publishing that results the publicly viewable storage of work falls into Archive Rights, owing that works published on the internet are considered publicly available, but not generally public domain. The broader Perpetual Rights transfer is utilised more for work that is in the public domain. Your work on microfiche in a filing cabinet is an archived work, but your work in a book at the library, available to the public, is a work in which Perpetual Rights are attached.

One-Time Rights: The second most common right in the small press, and the vehicle for reprints. One-Time Rights, when granted, mean that the publication in question can print your work once, and once only, and you’re work is still free to use however you want. You can reprint the work as much as you desire, and submit it as many times as you prefer, all at once even (provided the magazines you’re submitting to allow simultaneous submission or previously published material). If you plan on using a piece of writing more than once in the same medium, look for publications that are fine with this right.

Reprint Rights: If granted, these indicate that a publisher can print your work for the second time in the work’s illustrious public existence, or even the 487th time, whichever you’re up to. The difference between Reprint Rights and One-Time Rights is slim, and they are often used in place of one another in the small press.

Regional Rights: Somewhat self-explanatory. The right to print in a given region. This right is distinctively for Print Rights, never Electronic, because the internet is an open-ended, global arena. It has no specific region, per se.

Anthology Rights: The right to place your work in anthology of other works. Usually these rights are transferred for ‘Year in Review’ type books, or ‘Best of’ collections, but can also refer to any other kind of collected anthology.

Geographic Rights: The right to print in a specifically defined geographic location, for a given time, exclusively. Can be the same as Regional Rights, but Geographic Rights are usually reserved for very broad areas, I.E. a country or province. For instance, a magazine asking Geographic Rights for Wisconsin is asking that they be the only publication in Wisconsin, for a given time, to have the work in question available for print. Unless otherwise stated, you could still conceivably submit elsewhere outside of the geographic area outlined, provided you haven’t transfered other pertinent rights, as well.

Translation Rights / Language Rights: Refers to the right to print a translated work, or a version of the work in a specific language. If you translate a poem from a famous Inuit writer into Mauritanian Creole, you can publish it as a translation, under the transfer of these rights. These were created to help diferentiate who owns what work. You, in the abovementioned example, didn’t write the Inuit poem. You translated someone else’s work, therefore you can’t transfer writes based on the original, only your language translation of it. Some magazines demand that, if you submit a translation, you provide the original as well as the permission of the original’s copyright holder.

Excerpt Rights: Needs little explanation. The right to excerpt from something you’ve written. A line from one of your poems that has a ‘famous quote’ kind of feel, maybe stuck under the masthead of a magazine... that’s Excerpt Rights in play. Excerpt Rights in the poetry small press are more common with interviews, in which a magazine not connected with an interview you’ve done, wants to reprint several of your responses. If you wanted to take a paragraph of this post and publish it in an essay on rights transfer, you’d be asking me for Excerpt Rights.

Work for Hire Rights: A little trickier. Employed to write material, or by comission, without the protection of copyright. This transfers the copyright ITSELF to the publisher, and they don’t need to mention your name ever. They can do whatever they please to or with it, and easily state that someone else wrote it, if they desire. You were just the human word processor, and nothing more.

All Rights: Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! This is exactly what it sounds like. Similar to Work for Hire Rights, All Rights mean you sell the work, forever and in all ways. The difference is that most Work for Hire Rights are negotiated before the writing takes place, as with some freelance work and on occasion, columnists, whereas All Rights are usually transferred for already written pieces. You wrote it, you sent it, they like it, they want it... forever. It doesn’t belong to you anymore. Whatever the publication wants to do with your work, if they’ve been granted All Rights, is their decision. You have no say at all in it. They don’t have to attribute it to you, and they can even say they wrote it. They have All Rights.

While there are other rights available for transfer if the need arises, these are the most common I’ve seen (in truth, I’ve never met anyone that asked Work for Hire or All Rights). All of these rights can be a little confusing at first, especially considering some of them can double as others under certain circumstances, but it’s good knowledge to know what usages a magazine or anthology is asking you for in the fine print. If you’d like a more in-depth study of these and other rights, a simple Google search will get you huge amounts of information.

So, in closing, it's beneficial to study your rights and learn what transferring them means. While most magazines will simply state the rights they want, and that your submitting is an act of agreeing to it, the rights transferred are seldom anything problematic to you, unless you're trying to buck the system in some way. If anything, having some information under your belt on the rights that concern your published work will make you feel a touch more professional, and that’s never bad, is it?


Alissa Nielsen said...

Thanks for posting this! It's a really helpful resource. Saves a lot of people a lot of time and headache.

Thanks again!

D. T. Hindman said...

Ray, thanks for the info. Good piece. I,m writing some safety columns for a scooter club and hope to use the info later for other purposes - so your post helped. Dave H of Lakewood, Colorado