Equipping Writers for Success
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The Writing Life
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by Moira Allen
I want to resell an article that has already been published by one magazine. I don't want to change the article. It's my understanding that the original manuscript belongs to me, and that only the magazine version belongs to the original publication. So I should be able to resell my original article to other publications, right?Not necessarily. There is no such thing as a "magazine version" of your article vs. "your version." Granted, a magazine may significantly edit your work; however, as long as you have licensed them to use that work (and most contracts include a clause that licenses a magazine to edit such work), it is the "same" work -- not two separate works. Therefore, you can't treat "your manuscript" as something separate from "their article."
What you "own" after you sell an article depends entirely on the rights you have sold. If, for example, you have sold first publication rights (e.g., First North American Serial Rights), then you do, in fact, have the right to resell exactly the same article to another publication, without any changes, as long as you do not allow another publication to actually publish the piece "first." (Some magazines now include a contract clause that specifies how soon after publication you can resell a piece.) In this case, subsequent sales are defined as "second" serial rights (regardless of how often you sell them). The distinction here is that any subsequent sale can no longer be considered a "first sale" or "first use" within that medium. You can, however, sell "first" rights to another medium -- e.g., if you sold your article to a print publication, you could (theoretically) sell "first electronic rights" to the same piece to a purely electronic publication. You can also sell various forms of first international rights, such as "First European Rights" or "First UK Rights."
If, however, you sell a larger selection of rights to an article, such as all rights, you do not retain the right to resell that material anywhere else (including to another medium or another country) in its current form. Keep in mind that you are not selling just a piece of paper with printing on it (your manuscript), but your words, no matter the format in which those words appear (paper, electronic, etc.). When you sign an all-rights contract, or a work-for-hire contract, you are guaranteeing that this particular publication will be the only publication allowed to use those particular words. If you then sell reprints of the exact same article to other publications, you would be in violation of your contract (and could be sued).
That is why it's so important to understand the contract terms you're signing. Otherwise, you can easily lose more rights than you want to lose. For example, many magazines (incorrectly) attempt to claim that "First North American Serial Rights" includes the right to use the same material electronically (e.g., on a web site). This is not actually "legal," as based on the Tasini decision, which ruled that "first" does not mean "first in all media," but only "first" in the media specified in the contract. Technically, if you sell first print rights to a piece, you could also sell first electronic rights to the same piece somewhere else. In reality, a great many magazines are writing "electronic rights" into FNASR, and a great many writers are living with it.
The bottom line is that if you sell first rights, or one-time rights, you can resell that article to someone else, as often as you like -- as a reprint. But if you've sold all rights, you can't. You must significantly rewrite the article, effectively creating a different article, before you can sell it again.
Copyright © 2001 Moira Allen
Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.