Contracts and the Magazine Writer — Part 2

Earlier, we presented a basic overview of some risks that writers should be aware of before signing contracts for periodical articles. This time, we tackle a few specifics.

Ideas for this post came from the website of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and especially from their free writer’s resources section. The site reminded me that some phrases in publishers’ contracts may contain traps for writers. To find out more, I clicked on a link called What to Watch Out For. What appeared was a distinct learning lesson. Look at one example that deals with publishers’ contracts containing the phrase ” the nonexclusive right….

the nonexclusive right…. This may sound OK, but it often isn’t. Any right — Exclusive or Non-exclusive — must be paid for and must be paid for appropriately. You should receive at least 50% of the gross revenue or a fair percentage of the original fee for each usage that occurs as a result of the publisher’s sublicensing or reuse of your work. (The editor of an Australian magazine who loves your piece is going to call the U.S. publisher, who will make the deal; you’ll never know. And if you approach the Australian editor yourself, he may well ask for a month’s exclusivity in Australia; you won’t be able to provide it. Because your publisher in the US may be selling it to the Australian’s competitor, you lose the sale. In market terms, ‘nonexclusive’ wipes you out. Exclusive or non-exclusive, if the publisher wants the right, you ought to have separate compensation for that license.”)

Here’s another short segment from the Dangerous Clauses section:

…the right to publish, distribute and license others to publish and distribute the article in all its forms (or in any media)….” These words do not spell it out, but they mean you transfer electronic rights along with print rights.”

The “What to Watch Out For” section helps to shine a warning light on a dozen or more examples of wording that can trip you up if you aren’t alert. If you sign contracts containing those clauses, you may lose some rights or income you are entitled to receive.

Along with warnings, the ASJA authors offered two additions to the rights clause that writers can add to documents to make contracts more equitable. They suggest that, instead of First North American Serial Rights, you make contracts read, “First North American English Language Print Serial Rights.”

And also add this sentence: “All rights not expressly transferred herein are reserved by the author.”

In addition to reading the ASJA Contracts Watch newsletter that is sent to my inbox, I make regular stops at ASJA website to keep up with the latest developments in publishing, copyrights, and contracts and to learn how the developments could affect me as a freelance writer. It may pay you to do that, too.

Please leave a comment.
©2007 by Laverne Daley
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