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Writer's Corner

Terms you need to know
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If you're new to writing, the issue of rights probably has you confused. Here's a short primer:

A few definitions:
* Periodical: magazine, CD-ROM, newspaper.
* Exclusive: dedicated to one publication or person.
* SASE: stamped, self-addressed envelope
* Kill fee: Payment for work assigned but not purchased.
* On Spec: on speculation, you write in the hopes of selling.
* Copyright: the person who created the work first in tangible form -- paper, film, recording -- owns all rights. Titles, ideas and facts cannot be copyrighted.

First Serial Rights, or First North American Serial Rights, gives the publication the right to publish your article for the first time in any periodical. The writer retains all rights, however. "North American" only means the northern half of the American continent (Canada, North America, Central America, South America).

One-Time Rights means the periodical buys one-time rights to publish your work. The author may sell the work to other publications at the same time but usually does not sell to an overlapping audience. It's an ethical matter.

Second Serial Rights are Reprint Rights, meaning the author may sell an article after it has appeared in another publication.

All Rights means just what it sounds like (you sell the right to sell it to someone else later). Never sell all rights, unless you can’t avoid it, in which case try to persuade the editor to buy only first rights or to reassign rights after a certain period of time, for instance a year. If all else fails, use the material in a different story, completely rewritten with a different slant to a different audience and resell it if possible.

Electronic Rights cover a broad range of electronic media, from web sites to CD-ROM, magazine anthologies and interactive games. The contract should be specific.


Some people think copyright is something you have to send away for. The truth is, the minute you put your work in tangible form -- a book, a play, a song, an essay, a letter, novels, short stories(the list is endless)-- you own the copyright.

The contents of this blog is copyrighted by me, simply by the virtue of my having written it. I can send away for a copyright and pay the fee, thereby making my case stronger on the off chance I will end up in court because someone will claim to have written exactly the same thing before I did, but what are the chances of that happening? I don’t know what the fee is, but I'll save my money and take my chances. I doubt this blog will ever make a lot of money for anyone anyway.

Copyright law exists to protect creators of original works, so says Writers Market issue for 1999. It is engineered to encourage creative expression and aid in the progress of the arts and sciences by ensuring the artists and authors by which they can profit from their labors.

The basic of the copyright law are discussed in Writers Market, the Internet and numerous other sources; it isn't hard to find. Beware, however: titles, ideas and facts cannot be copyrighted.

If you want the entire copyright document, write the Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20559; for specific answers to specific questions, call the Copyright Public Information Office, 202-707-3000 weekdays, 8:30 am to 5 pm or download from the Library of Congress website at