the Periodical Writers' Association of Canada
Why Writers Need Copyright
Whether you write for traditional print publications or new electronic
media, understanding copyright is vital. Your copyright is the only
reason you are paid for your work. A good understanding of how it
works will help you earn more money or explain why you aren't earning
That's why the Periodical Writers Association of Canada (PWAC)
offers a kit describing the basic facts about copyright. We also
provide a few tips on protecting your rights, valuable sample letters
of intent and a standard freelance publication agreement.
PWAC's complete copyright kit is available free of charge from
PWAC (contact information below), but the following glimpse at the
basics will get you on your way to understanding copyright better.
Copyright gives you the right to determine how others use your
writing and for how much. The best way to derive the most benefit
from copyright is to license one individual work to many non-competing
publishers. While there is only one copyright in any given work,
that copyright may be divided into many different rights. When you
license your work to any publisher, a contract or letter of agreement
is used to spell out the details.
If you want to make the most of your copyright, resist selling
all copyright to your work. Even when you wish to license many rights
at the same time, resist lumping them together in a blanket contract.
Negotiate each right independently to ensure that your clients pay
individually for each one.
Print rights once covered all publications that existed. Even then,
before the age of electronic rights, there were beneficial ways
of carving up your copyright to increase your earnings. Many of
these methods still apply. Copyright can be divided into two basic
types: sequential and geographic.
Sequential rights include first and second rights. A "first
right" means that your client is licencing the right to publish
a story first. A "second right" covers any publication
after the first time.
Geographic copyrights limit the publication of a work to a specific
area and usually only apply to a "first right." Geographic
rights can expand as far as "galactic rights" or be specific
to an individual city. Usually, a geographic right limits publication
to a continent or within a country. For example, "first Canadian
rights," "first US rights" and "first European
It was once common to license serial rights, but this practice
should now be avoided. A serial right traditionally covered the
right to publish in a periodical or "serial" publication,
but the word "serial" has come under legal scrutiny with
the advent of electronic publishing. Some publishers argue that
serial rights expand beyond print publication and include electronic
database or World Wide Web rights. This question is currently before
the courts. To avoid possible confusion, it is better to specify
"print rights only," if you intend to limit the licence
to print publication only.
In some instances, particularly when assigning second rights, it
is better to use language that avoids questions of geography and
first or second rights. In this case, you could simply license "one-time
print rights". This licence grants the publisher the right
to use your work once, only in print. This way, you can sell the
same article to a number of newspapers simultaneously or perhaps
sell second rights without explaining where the work has previously
appeared. Be aware that it is unethical to license rights to the
same story to publications who compete for the same readers.
Many magazines and newspapers publish electronic versions of their
publications via the Internet or CD-ROM. Publishers also sell or
sub-license their content to a variety of commercial databases.
Writers deserve to earn a fair return for their work, no matter
how it is used. Publishers often complain that they're making no
money from electronic publishing. Even though this assertion is
highly debatable, it has no bearing on their agreement with you.
These same publishers pay for the computer, Web designers, Internet
space, CD-ROM production and even for the janitor who mops up around
the server without complaining. Writers should not have to subsidize
publishers or their business experiments.
When publishers approach you about electronic rights, avoid blanket
all-rights clauses that effectively give them a carte blanche. Be
specific. If you are licencing Web rights, identify the specific
Web sites where your work may appear, otherwise it can be used anywhere
on the Internet. Identify which databases you agree to license.
Finally, put a time limit on the licence. Consider licensing the
work for the shelf life of a periodical - three months for a quarterly,
for example. A one-year licence is also common.
GET IT IN WRITING
Negotiating an agreement that is clearly understood by you and
your client is key to protecting your rights.
ALWAYS send a letter of intent to the client outlining all of the
salient points of your agreement. This way, any discrepancies between
your understanding and your clients' understanding can be discussed
and straightened out before work on a project begins.
Whenever possible, use PWAC's "Standard Freelance Publication
Agreement." It ensures that the points you need to clarify
are fully documented.
Large companies often issue purchase orders. In that case, specify
the terms of agreement on the purchase order.
Always include the standard terms of copyright on your invoices
and ensure that clients receive invoices before you receive payment
for your work and prior to publication. Preferably, you should include
an invoice with your work when delivering it to the client. If a
publisher responds by paying the invoice and publishing the article,
then a dispute later arises, you'll be able to argue that the publication
agreed to your terms or they wouldn't have published the article.
For PWAC's complete copyright kit, see www.writers.ca or contact
PWAC's National Office at 54 Wolseley St, Suite 203, Toronto, Ontario,
M5T 1A5; phone(416) 504-1645; fax(416) 504-9079; e-mail email@example.com.
For further information on PWAC, see www.pwac.ca.
Sources, 489 College
Street, Suite 201, Toronto, ON M6G 1L9.
Phone: (416) 964-7799 FAX: (416) 964-8763
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