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Copyright Primer, Know Your Rights

Markets, Publishing, RESOURCES-TIPS

By Linda S. Dupie

When an editor gives you the great news your article or essay is ready for publication; do you know what rights you’re selling? As a young writer knowing your rights is key.

Your work is copyrighted the moment you put your words on paper, meaning you own the rights to your work. You have full control over how you want your work used. When you agree to have your work published, you are granting the editor certain rights to use it, therefore it is important to understand what rights you are authorizing the editor to use.

Types of Rights

  • First Serial Rights-First serial rights means the writer (you) are giving a newspaper or magazine the right to publish the article, story or poem for the first time in any periodical. You retain all other rights to the material. North American is often added to the phrase to define the geographical location.
  • One-time Rights-This is where the editor buys nonexclusive rights to publish your work once (also known as simultaneous rights). With one-time rights, you are free to try to sell your work to other publications at the same time.
  • Second Serial (Reprint) Rights-Reprint rights give you the opportunity to sell your work to another publication after it has already appeared in another newspaper or magazine. Second serial rights are nonexclusive-therefore you’re able to license the article to more than one market.
  • All Rights-This is just what it sounds like; you are giving up the rights to use this article forever. The publication that buys the article, story, or poem is now the owner of the article.
  • Electronic Rights-These rights cover a wide range of electronic media, from online magazines to CD-ROM magazines. Many print magazines have online media and it would be wise to check the contract to see what if any electronic rights you are selling.


Copyright laws protect creators of original stories and articles. There is no need to register your work with the Copyright Office in order for it to be copyrighted. As said above you hold the copyright the moment you put your words on paper. However, registering your work does offer additional protection if you suspect an infringement on your copyright.

Remember a copyright protects your actual form of expression, not titles, ideas, and facts.

You may obtain more information about copyright from the Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington DC 20559. You can also visit The Library of Congress web site at

Other Resources

Every Writer’s Guide to Copyright and Publishing Law; Second Edition, by Ellen M. Kozak. Published by Owl Books, 1990, 1996.

Writer’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest. (Annually)

The Market Guide for Young Writers, 5th Edition, by Kathy Henderson. Published by Writer’s Digest Books.

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Writer’s Digest Online


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