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Know Your Rights- a guide to selling international rights to your work by John Dunne
Fifteen years ago when I was new to international freelancing I self syndicated many stories and features to magazines and newspapers around the globe. Over-enthusiastic and eager forevery sale I endangered my own income by ignoring my Rights.
One piece, an interview with a local scientist sold well inBritain and Australia, but bombed in the rest of the world.So when I received a letter from the British trade magazinewhich had bought the first British rights for £250, asking for World Exclusive rights so they could publish it in theirSpanish language sister publication I was very tempted. I'd heard all about the dangers of selling all rights to your writing, but I figured the piece had sold as much as it was going to and the extra £300 they were offering would come in handy, and there was the added bonus of the new notch on my keyboard of having my first Spanish languagetranslation.. Have you guessed the rest? The story was reproduced six times in Lain America and the Philippines, and worse,the BBC world service which had ignored it in Britain picked it up and decided it was good documentarymaterial.
Over the next five years it was used as the basis for a TV and two radio documentaries . The former
has been repeated several times in Britain and sold to many (I have no idea of how many) TV channels around the world. Of course, as I'd sold All Rights, I received nothing.
This early lesson in the value of retaining your rights to your work led me to learn which rights to sell where and which to hold on to,regardless of the editorial pressure. Consider your resale markets before you write the initial article. As you write underline words which will have to bechanged to suit British or American English language markets.This will help keep you focused on which rights you areselling. You can take this one step further by targeting specific magazines which break the trend, such as those American and Canadian markets which use British English and the African and Australian markets which use American English.
Let's say you have written a travel article for a British Sunday Supplement magazine. You will have sold your First BritishSerial Rights. When you send the same article to the US do you sell the First North American Rights?
You could, but you might then find it difficult to resell it in Canada. Better to sell the First United States Rights and the First Canadian Rights separately. You may have to be prepared to accept a slightly lower rate for the FUSR but being able to resell it again in Canada will more than compensate you. By selling the individual national rights you will make moresales and more money.
Subjects such as travel, true life stories, self-improvement, health, scientific and technical advances and fiction travel well and with little need for amendments to suit language and culture. Just go to a map of the world stick a pin it and you are likely to find another set Rights you can sell. Even if English is not that countries first language they may produce English language magazines, such as Scanorama and Blue Wings the in-flight magazines of Air Sweden and FinAir respectively. So stop what you are doing right now, sit down with a map and startlisting all the rights you can sell.
- First British RightsFirst US - RightsFirst Canadian Rights - First Australian Rights - First New Zealand Rights - First South African Rights - First Zimbabwean Rights - First Hong Kong Rights - First Malaysian Right - First Irish Rights... OK.
Even with only the English language rights you should have quite a long list and be beginning to realise just how valuable your rights are.But now things get complicated.
In certain parts of the world magazines and newspapers are written for and distributed to several countries. Asia Week for example, which usually carries three syndicated travel features each week is distributed with the largest Sunday newspapers in Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, Brunei, China and Indonesia. In common with many publications throughout the region they insist on First South Asian Rights. In this instance you may have no option but to accept, but get written confirmation of the countries included, so you can mop up any small markets left.
At the other end of the scale, if you are considering writing and syndicating a newspaper column- which hopefully will sell to several papers in the same country - you need to get detailed informationof their circulation areas and offer First Rights Only: Exclusive to Your Circulation (For "Your" substitute the name of the newspaper). For a while the Internet looked like it might complicate matters because it crosses all national boundaries.
Many writers still refuse to sell their work on the Net because they fear print magazines may not want to buy First Rights to material which has been freely available world wide. The debate still rages but the fact remains that more and more Internet publications are paying for work, some quite well. The thing to remember here is to sell only your First Electronic Rights For A Period of X Months. Also check that this refers only to publication on the Internet and does not include distribution on disc or CD. *********
More ideas to mull over. Perhaps the publishing clearing houses aggressively market the topics and articles of authors who've sold their rights? Or maybe the idea-gleaners (and they know who they are) only consider articles with uncomplicated copyrights--i.e., the ones that have been sold by the authors.
Simoncook1 28.01.2002 22:39
very good advice!
julietta 01.09.2001 20:47
Brilliant review for all writers and/or budding writers!