Writing for Magazines --Part 3

By June Campbell

Part 3: The Copyright Information

If you're planning on writing for magazines and submitting articles to magazines, you need to understand copyright information.

First, a primer. When you write an article, you own the copyright on that article. You own the copyright automatically as soon as you put your words in fixed form by writing the words either on paper or in a digital format. Should a dispute occur, you might have to find a way of proving that you put your words in fixed form ahead of someone else, but that is another story.

You continue to own the copyright on your article until such time as you sell or give the copyright to someone else.

When you agree to let someone else publish your article, you and that person must agree on the rights that you are giving or selling that person. There are several possibilities.

When a magazine publisher uses your article, it is assumed that they have acquired one time publication rights, UNLESS OTHERWISE STATED. This means they have the right to publish your article once and once only.

If they ask for first time publication rights, this means you give them the right to publish the article first, ahead of any other publisher. If the article has ever been published elsewhere, including on your own web site, you cannot agree to first publication rights. If your article has been published elsewhere, you are expected to let the editor know this at the time you pitch the article. Failure to disclose this information does not bode well for your future writing ventures. The publishing world is a small one and editorial staff network.

Magazines may accept a pre-published article if their distribution area is different from the first publisher's, or if there is a substantially different readership. Back in the days when small, regional computer magazines were prolific, I often had the same article published many times, but in magazines distributed in different cities or regions.

Publishers could also ask for first time serial rights. With this, you give them the right to publish the article for the first time, but they can publish it more than once, perhaps on a web site, compiled on a CD ROM, or in a sister publication.

If a magazine buys all rights, it means they own the copyright from now on and you have no more rights to the article.

If the publisher asks for a work for hire, they have essentially bought all rights. They may or may not identify you as the writer. If you write as a ghost writer, it means the publisher owns the copyright and can attribute the writing to someone else.

If a magazine asks for publication rights with no agreement about exclusivity, you can publish your article elsewhere - usually after a period of time has passed. You can also rewrite a previously published article so it is new again - but it must be significantly different from the first. You can do this by giving it a different slant suitable for different publications. I once wrote an article about a local dancer who was web casting her performances. A dance magazine published my first article. After revision, a computer magazine published it again, and still later, a woman's magazine used yet a third re-write of this one article. All three had a different slant.

Be aware of the various rights, and be prepared to negotiate a rights agreement with the publisher. Some magazines are open to negation around these issues. Others are not.

Now for the next step on your way to writing for magazines. ... the Query Letter

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