Protecting Your Electronic Rights, Online and Off by Moira Anderson Allen

Rare is the U.S. print publication that does not have a Web presence, even if it’s only a subscription page. Many magazines post representative articles from each issue; others post their entire contents; still others offer content not available in the print edition. Hundreds of U.S. newspapers post each day’s edition online. Many publications archive material online indefinitely. Equally rare, therefore, is the U.S. print publication that does not seek some license of electronic rights. Some ask only for what they plan to use; others, however, attempt to grab as many e-rights as they can. Increasingly, writers find themselves facing complex, multi-page contracts written in dense legalese—and inflexible editors who refuse to negotiate. Most electronic publications are less demanding. Very few electronic publications have a print edition—so most e-zines, e-mail newsletters and “content” sites don’t ask for print rights. Some, however, impose a generic exclusivity clause that prevents you from republishing the material anywhere for a period of time, or a “first rights” clause that precludes you from publishing the material in print before it appears electronically. Both print and electronic publications tend to treat previously published material as a reprint, regardless of the medium in which it “first” appeared. Print and electronic publications are still struggling to develop a “standard” language for electronic rights.

Contract Terms For E-Periodicals

Following are some of the terms you’re most likely to see in contracts from either medium:

  • First electronic rights. This frees you to sell reprints in any medium, once the material is initially published.
  • One-time electronic rights. While this term doesn’t specify any time-limit on a publication’s use of your material, it does free you to market your work elsewhere.
  • Nonexclusive electronic rights. This enables you to reuse your material electronically at any time. Most publications ask for such rights either in perpetuity, or “indefinitely.”
  • Exclusive electronic rights for (term). Often, a publisher will ask for a period of exclusivity (usually three to six months), followed by the nonexclusive right to archive your material indefinitely.
  • Archival rights. Many print publications, and most electronic publications, expect to archive material online indefinitely or in perpetuity. Make sure this request is “nonexclusive.”
  • First/exclusive worldwide electronic rights. Since “FNASR” has little meaning online, many publications are using a clause that reflects the international nature of electronic publication.

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