Monday, 1 June 2015

Freelancers: Know Your Copyrights!

Before we begin, do you know what copyright is? If not, read my blog post on 5 Things Every Media Professional Should Know About Copyright Law first.

Before we talk about your rights as a freelancer, you need to determine whether what you are doing is considered freelance work or if it falls under the work-for-hire exception.

What’s the difference? A work-for-hire agreement basically states that your employer or the person who commissioned your services owns all the rights to the work that you create for them. Work-for-hire agreements are typically included in the contracts of full-time employees, although a lot of employers also require their freelancers or contractors to sign these agreements prior to the start of the project.

If you don’t know whether you are doing work-for-hire or freelance work, talk to your employer and clarify this issue before you produce any work for them.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let me tell you a little more about your rights as a freelancer.

The first thing you need to know is that your work is yours alone. If you wrote the article, took the picture, shot the video, made the design, etc., you hold the rights to that piece of work.

Yes, it’s very exciting. 
Feel free to shimmy to your heart’s content.

Since you hold the rights to your work, you decide whether to sell or give an employer or publisher any of those rights. Here are the 5 most common rights that employers or publishers might buy from you:
  • All Rights
You give the publisher complete ownership of the work for all time. 
  • First Serial Rights
You give the publisher the right to publish the work for the first time, anywhere in the world. However, the publisher can only use your work once, after which you can sell it to someone else.
  • First North American Serial Rights
This is the same as First Serial Rights except the publisher only has the right to publish the work first in North America.
  • Simultaneous Rights
You give multiple publishers the right to publish a piece work at the same time. All publishers must be aware of the simultaneous release of that work.
  • One-Time Rights
You give the publisher the right to use your work only once, and you are not obliged to guarantee that it has not been published anywhere else.
It is not uncommon for a publisher to negotiate an All Rights buy of your work that includes an agreement that they will reassign the rights to you after they use it. In this situation, be aware that the burden is yours to initiate the reassignment process. 

After the work has been published, be sure to contact the publisher and ask for them to sign all rights back to you. Record this transfer of rights with the Copyright Office within two or three weeks. Once you have the rights to your work back, you can resell the material at your discretion.  


Too much work, I know. 
But ya gotta do what ya gotta do. 

In fairly recent years, legislation regarding freelance work copyrights has changed as technology advances. In 2001, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that it is permissible for a publisher to re-use a freelancer’s work online or in CD/DVD form as long as the work is not altered, and it appears in its original context. In that same year, a New York federal court ruled that the rights granted to a publisher to publish a work in book form does not include the right to publish it as an e-book.



This all goes to show that as a freelancer, you have to know your rights and be especially careful when it comes to spelling out specific rights you offer to publishers or employers over your work. Don’t take anything for granted; just because you’re honest and ethical doesn’t mean everybody else will be.

Do you have any good or bad experiences working as a freelancer? Let us know in the comments below or tweet them to us @Swagger_Media!



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