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Selling International Rights
by Moira Allen

Return to International Freelancing · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

One of the primary benefits of exploring international markets is the ability to resell the same article to more than one publication. To do this effectively, however, you need to know what rights to offer -- and what rights to retain at all costs.

Many international publications are less concerned about formal transfers of rights than their North American counterparts. What they are concerned about, however, is competition. The quickest way to alienate an editor is to sell the same article to another publication that reaches the same audience! By determining what rights you're offering -- and what rights the publication is likely to use -- you can avoid this disaster.

Defining Regional Rights

Most publications are likely to ask for some form of regional or "geographic" rights. For example, publications in the U.S. and Canada often ask for "First North American Serial Rights." This gives authors the option of selling the same article outside North America, as well as the option of offering "first" publication rights to other regions.

International publications are most likely to request the right to publish an article either "first" or "exclusively" within their own country. Many British magazines, for example, ask for "First British Serial Rights." Some magazines, however, may ask for the right to use the material "first" in a broader geographic area. An Asian publication might seek first rights within a specific country (such as Japan or Korea), or ask for "First Asian Rights" to allow them to distribute the material throughout Asia. A UK magazine might seek the right to distribute the piece "first" not only within the UK itself, but also in Australia and New Zealand, or in the UK and Europe.

Other publications may have a more localized distribution area, and thus require a smaller subset of "geographic" rights. Many newspapers, for example, are distributed only within a certain region, such as a city, county, or province. These, and smaller regional magazines, may be interested only in the right to exclusive distribution within their geographic area. If your article is likely to appeal to several such regional publications, consider offering one-time rights to noncompeting magazines.

Selling Language Rights

If a magazine requests a broad transfer of geographic rights (e.g., "First European Rights" or "First Worldwide/International Rights"), one way to retain the ability to resell your material is to specify the language in which the material is to be published. For example, instead of giving a UK publication the exclusive right to publish your article in Europe, offer the exclusive right to publish that material "in English." This still leaves you the opportunity to sell the same material to other European magazines, as long as those magazines are published in a language other than English.

Some publications ask for language rights rather than geographic rights. For example, a publication might seek exclusive German or Japanese translation rights. If such a publication is indeed distributed world-wide, this is not a problem. If, however, a publication has a limited regional distribution, you might wish to specify a geographic limit to those rights. For example, if a Japanese-language publication is distributed only in Japan, you might wish to retain the right to sell the same material to another Japanese-language publication in, say, Australia or Canada.

Retaining Important Rights

Whenever you write an article that you want to sell more than once, be sure to retain the necessary rights. Once you've sold all rights, or allowed a piece to be designated as "work for hire," it's gone forever.

Other rights transfers offer less obvious pitfalls. For example, some U.S. publications ask for "FNASR," but also include a demand for nonexclusive worldwide rights. This can be a problem if you're trying to sell the same piece to a non-U.S. publication that wants "exclusive" rights, even within a small geographic area. At the very least, try to limit this "nonexclusive worldwide rights" clause by a time factor, or by language (e.g., nonexclusive worldwide English-language rights).

Electronic rights are another sticky issue. While many international publications are still strictly "print," more and more are developing websites and archiving material online. Of greater concern, however, is the accessibility of material that has been posted by a U.S. publication. The Internet audience is truly international, and a publication may be reluctant to pay money for an article that its readers are already able to access online for free.

The market for electronic material in languages other than English offers additional opportunities for writers. Rather than licensing unspecified or unlimited electronic rights to U.S. publishers, consider adding an "English-language" restriction to those rights. This would enable you to sell the same piece online in Swedish, Hungarian, and dozens of other languages.

Another option is to request a duration limit to electronic use, and ask that your material be removed from a publication's website after a specified time. Many publications are now including a clause that allows writers to request the removal of their online material if and when they find another market.

Finally, be sure you know the difference between terms like "exclusive" and "non-exclusive," "first" and "one-time." Pay close attention to the clauses in which those terms appear. Exclusive where, or for how long? First in what language? Whenever possible, opt to sell "non-exclusive" or "one-time" rights; this will leave you free to resell the same material again and again, throughout the world.

Find Out More:

Rights and Copyright, by Moira Allen

Rights: What They Mean and Why They're Important, by Marg Gilks

Copyright © 2001 Moira Allen

This article may be reprinted provided that the author's byline, bio, and copyright notice are retained in their entirety. For complete details on reprinting articles by Moira Allen, please click HERE.

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.


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