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Electronic Rights (and Wrongs)

Reprinted with permission from PWAC

Today, many magazines and newspapers publish and sell electronic versions of their publications on the Internet or CD-ROM. Publishers also sell or sub-license the same content to a variety of commercial databases.

Very often publishers violate copyright law by offering on the Internet articles written by freelance writers that the publisher had originally agreed to print only once in hard copy.

Similarly, some newspaper chains have taken freelance articles sold to one paper and transmitted them electronically - without permission or payment - to other papers in the chain.

As writers, we have to combat the widespread practice of copyright violation. We also have to learn to effectively negotiate our electronic rights with publishers.

Let's Make a Deal

Publishers often try to buy all rights for the work they publish electronically. This makes it easier to collect, indefinitely, all the revenues from material they put on the Internet and CD-ROMs.

To earn a fair return our words written, writers should resist selling all rights to our work. If we do sell all rights, we need to receive adequate compensation. We should resist lumping all rights in a blanket contract. We should negotiate each right independently.

Where our words are published electronically, writers should get paid each time a subscriber displays or downloads one of our articles. This can pose a problem for some multi-media, CD-ROM and microfilm technologies. So we may need to make different kinds of arrangements.

- Start negotiating republication rights using the agent's model of 90/10 in favour of the author. The publisher's share could increase up to fifty percent, based on their contributions to content, research, expenses paid, fact-checking, layout, background information, and so on. This tack recasts the publisher as an agent responsible for selling writers' articles to different markets and entitling us to a percentage of the revenue.

- Limit a flat fee agreement in time and space. License the rights for a number of years and for a specific region.

-Sell "non-exclusive" rights so that we are able to resell the article to different markets.

-Always, separate and clearly identify the specific rights that are being sold so that other markets remain available to us.

Negotiating a solid contract is the cost of doing business for both writers and publishers. It separates the professionals from the amateurs.

See also:
Battle Rages Over Electronic Publishing Rights
A Copyright Tutorial
CANCOPY and photocopying
If It's Worth Publishing, It's Worth Paying For
Permissions and documentation: When not to worry


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