Business of Freelance

Top Reasons to Understand Your Writing Rights

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Know the different rights as a writer to build a solid writing career. If you don’t know your rights then you will get left in the dust.

I stepped up to help out an organization that I believe in. They asked for speakers and I agreed to do the presentation – for free – at the last minute. I sent in my favorite talk subject and then marked it on my calendar.

Two weeks before the event, I received a Speaker Engagement Agreement from the host. It offered NO honorarium and NO benefits – but I would be allowed to “discuss my business, books, website, or professional services.”

And then I hit the real snag. If I signed the agreement to volunteer my services then I was also waiving “any right to record, reproduce, or distribute any recordings of the presentation.”

The agreement also gave the organization “sole” rights to my materials.

Wait – what?

know your writing rights

Several years ago, I met with a columnist friend of mine and was encouraging her to put together a book using her old columns. She told me that she wanted to but the publisher wouldn’t give her to the rights to use her own words. That was when I first started paying close attention to my rights and to what rights I was willing to give away, which is why the agreement offered to me by the organization I was volunteering to help struck a nerve.

The only time I give up my rights to the words I am creating is when I am contracted to create certain words – content for a niche website or a news article for a publication. I am willing to take a paycheck for the exclusive use of those words.

When it comes to my personal stories and my own niche words, I take more care.

Before I go on, I need to reveal that I am NOT a lawyer – I don’t even play one on T.V. I have attended legal seminars and know that if you are in doubt or have a concern it is best to speak to a lawyer that knows the industry so that you can make a more informed decision.

That begin said – there are some standard industry terms that you should be aware of when it comes to writing and to using your own words in the future.

Exclusive Rights (also known as “sole” by some users) grants full and complete rights. It can be just for a period of time determined by the parties involved.

All Rights is very similar in that you can never use (or resell) the content again (at least as it is written).

Work for Hire is what I did with most of my content writing. It means that I am producing content for another and the content is theirs to use as they desire without my name attached.

First Rights means what it says – the buyer is purchasing the right to publish the content first. You can sell variations of “first rights” (i.e. North American, British, electronic) at the same time as long as the variations don’t bump into each other.

These terms are just the tip of the iceberg, but you have to begin somewhere. Before you lose control of your words, like my friend did with her personal essay column, take time to learn your rights.



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