Your Rights as a Writer

If you're working as a freelance writer, you should be well aware that there are a wide variety of rights attached to all of your work. When deciding where and how to sell your writing, you get to decide what kinds of rights you want to offer your clients (unless you choose to apply for gigs where demands for rights are already laid out... then you simply decide whether or not to accept them). Here are a handful of terms regarding the types of rights for writing that you may come across:

  • First Rights
  • Reprint Rights
  • Electronic Rights
  • One-time Rights
  • Exclusive Rights
  • Non-Exclusive Rights
  • Full Rights (transfer of copyright)

It's important for you to understand what these rights mean, so you can decide exactly how much control and future benefit you're prepared to give up in your work for certain rates. Let's look at some examples, and what they might mean:

  1. If you publish something to your own website, and someone else wants to copy that article to their own website, they may request reprint rights. Reprint rights are generally less expensive than exclusive or first rights. However, if that article were printed in a print newsletter, and someone wanted to purchase the use for their website, you can generally charge more than a typical reprint fee, because they'll be getting first electronic rights and the benefits that come along with that (the first person to have it indexed in search engines, the first to be able to take advantage of online monetization, etc.).
  2. Some websites and even magazines ask for exclusive rights, but only for a limited amount of time, with non-exclusive rights after that. They do this, because they can often get a better deal when a writer knows they'll be able to monetize the work in other ways later on, but it still shows them as the original publisher of the piece (especially important in online publishing, because of search engine indexing).
  3. If you look at a lot of writing gigs posted online, many clients demand full copyright. This means that they own all rights to your work, and unless you have something to the contrary in writing, they don't have to credit you for it, and you shouldn't be claiming ownership (even in a portfolio). This is why I personally very rarely give up the copyright to my work, and if I do, there has to be a stipulation that I'll be bylined, so I can prove authorship in order to reference it in my portfolio if I choose to.

Always look carefully at the rights a client is asking for, and charge them accordingly. If a client demands full copyright, you're well within your rights to charge more for it (to discourage clients from demanding it, aside from very limited exceptions, I charge a four figure buyout fee on my copyrights... it's an excellent method of stopping the demands, protecting my most valuable asset as a writer, and clients find that 99% of the time simply buying exclusive rights, or even just exclusive electronic rights, more than fits their actual needs).

If you do retain some rights to your work, don't just let it sit around gathering dust on your hard drive. Find ways to monetize it, whether it's including it in your own website or blog, or using old content towards self-publishing a book or e-book. Always know your rights when it comes to your writing. And more importantly, try to get everything laid out in writing (or in this day and age, at least email).

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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