Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Understanding rights

I'm constantly amazed at how few writers--especially beginning writers--comprehend copyright. Earlier today I posted the following simplified explanation as part of a discussion about anthology rights among members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society:

A "work-for-hire" situation means that the author NEVER owned any rights to the created work. All rights belong to the employer. For example, if you are employed by XYZ Corporation and part of your job is to write the company newsletter, the company owns what you wrote.

If you are an independent contractor and XYZ Corporation hires you to write their newsletter you may, or may not, enter into a work-for-hire agreement. If you do, the company owns what you wrote.

In an "all rights" situation, the author owns what she created and chooses, for whatever reason to sell ALL of those rights to another entity. Once the author has sold all rights to something, the new owner of those rights may use them in any way he sees fit without ever consulting the creator.

In many cases, writers sell or lease certain rights to another party. For example, the author might grant another party First North American Serial Rights. In other words, she grants a publishing company the right to be the "first" to publish a particular work in "North America" (that's Canada and the U.S.) in a "serial" publication (that's a usually magazine, but may also be a newspaper). Note that author retains a plethora of other rights, ranging from "second" N.A. rights (the right to reprint in North America), to "first," "second" and subsequent rights in other countries (Brazil, Australia, Japan, etc.) or regions (South
America, Europe, etc.) or languages (Chinese, French, Spanish, etc.) or formats (anthology, electronic, TV, radio, etc.).

Note that nothing in the quoted post mentions what rights are being transferred from the writer to the anthology editor or publisher. To presume that the examples are "work-for- hire" seems a bit extreme given the lack of information provided, and given the wide variety of rights exchanges that may, in fact, happen between a writer and an anthology editor or publisher.

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