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Magazines and Your Rights

There are more than 8000 magazines in the UK market today, and they are all looking out for new articles and photographs to publish. As with all publishing you are giving the magazine a licence to reproduce your work and usually for a fee but not always, some photographic magazines will reward you with gifts instead, but the principle is still the same, you are giving them a licence to publish your material. With magazines there are a number of things to watch out for and in this article I am going to try to outline some of the items you should look out for and how to protect yourself against just handing over everything.

In today's environment of both printed magazines and many of them also having an online presence the first thing to watch out for is the type of licence you are signing up to. Some magazines will give you up front what they require you to provide and what their conditions of inclusion are, such as 500 words, up to 10 pictures in return for a fee, but what they may not be up front about is the rights that they are expecting you to give them. So before sending any article or photo to a magazine it is ideal to sort this out first, and if possible get the details in writing.

When you submit an article to a magazine you are normally doing so under their normal terms and unless you specify otherwise disputes or misunderstandings can arise. It is easy for a magazine to get an article and confuse it with a press release and therefore take chunks out or use it in it's entirety but under their name without paying you anything, unless you have clearly marked the rights you are offering. This is normally done either by having an agreement in advance with the editor so that you both know what is expected, when and how you will be paid and what rights you are granting, or when submitting a freelance article including a cover page with your terms clearly stated. Its then up to them to renegotiate the terms if these are not acceptable prior to publication. I have read that 'when you submit an article to a magazine you are implying that you are willing to grant them a licence to publish your work, and unless there is an agreement to the contrary they are at liberty to do so, providing they pay you the going rate. But they must not go further, for instance allow the article to be reproduced in another periodical or online without your permission'. The problem is that general practice tends to not line up with this and many publishers having used your work in a magazine or newspaper will automatically assume they can use the same without additional fee on their website and may also include it within data included within subscription based retrieval systems.

If the article is published without asking for exclusive or full rights, then it is taken for granted that you have agreed to First Rights. This restricts the publication and not you, you are able to offer the same piece of work to others if you wish.

If you are able to both write the article and submit good quality photographs to go with it, an illustrated article, then you can command a higher fee as normally the publication will have to out source the photography to someone else if you wrote the article only.

There are a number of different types of rights that magazines may ask for and here we explain each type:

Exclusive or Full Rights. This implies you will not publish the article with any other publication, and therefore commands the highest fee.

First Serial Rights. This is giving them the right to publish the article and photos for the first time, before it appears in any other publication. If you grant these rights then if you are offering to others later it will have to be on the basis of second serial rights or a non-exclusive licence. Now you can restrict these rights to only cover a specific market, language or territory, time period as well as restricting use online as this will automatically give them worldwide rights. This type of right can command a high fee.

Second Serial Rights. Providing you have not handed over the copyright, you are at liberty to offer an article which has been published elsewhere to others, but in this case you would have to offer it to them as second serial rights. The fees for these rights are lower.

Non-Exclusive Licences. This is exactly what it says you are offering them the chance to publish, but you will also be offering it to others. Now it might be that you are happy for the article to be issued on this basis, but you might want to limit the rights for the accompanying photographs. So you will need to make sure you say that you are giving the magazine a non-exclusive licence to reproduce, as part of the article wherever it appears, any such material supplied by you. If they want exclusivity, limit it by defining a time period.

Electronic Rights. This has become more of an issue since magazines have become more proactive online. Frequently publications will seek to the right to publish in all media including online editions. If you intend to give these rights then your initial fee should be increased to reflect the wider licence. Some suggest you should agree a time limit on the licence, for example 12 months, as it can have an impact on other types of licence you may want to use in the future, but in my view this is not really practical as few who maintain websites can run a diary of deletions and in practice is unlikely to happen.

Syndication Rights. This is asked for where publications want exclusive rights to licence others to publish your article, with commissioned articles this may not be unreasonable after all they have specifically requested what they want you to do. How firm a line you take depends on how much you think you will use the article across other publications in the future. If you do go with this option it might be wise to ask that all requests to reprint in another publication will be subject to your approval. Under these rights you will be paid an initial fee, but you should also be paid 50% of the identifiable sum attributable to the syndication on future publications.

Assignment of Copyright. If you have to assign copyright be aware that unless stated otherwise you are giving up total control over any changes made, any right to be credited or any right to further payments for future use. If you feel you have no choice but to sign up to this option then try for a time period from first publication after which you will be free to reuse the article and images elsewhere.

So what remuneration should you expect for each of these rights. That's difficult to answer as different publications will have different fee structures and as I mentioned above some publications, including some photographic magazines rather than paying in cash, pay with goods. Their fee structures will not only depend on the type of licence you are permitting, but also other factors such as the profitability of the publication, the specialist nature of the magazine, how urgently it is needed, how easily they could get someone else to do the article if you said no. As a guide the National Union of Journalists produce a regularly updated list of minimum freelance rates which will give you some idea of what to expect. See here for magazine rates and for photography rates.

So when should you expect payment, again this will vary from publication and whether the article has been commissioned or not. But generally most magazines and newspapers pay on publication or within a month of publication, some of the best publications will pay on acceptance. However it is a good idea that to specify when submitting the article that if the work has not been published within a specified time you will be paid your fee on a specific date. This stops them from holding on to the article for an overly long period and while doing so you not being able to publish elsewhere. Generally for commissioned articles as long as it meets the brief and deadline you will be paid the full fee, even if the article for some reason is not published or accepted, some magazines have what they call a 'kill fee', and this should be agreed at the outset, whereby if for whatever reason they reject your article then they will pay at least 50% of what was agreed.

The two main moral rights within the Copyright Act, the right to be identified as the author, and the right to have the work subjected to derogatory treatment, does not apply to work published in 'a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical, however some publications still seek waivers of these rights. In doing so you are agreeing to give up the right to be credited for your work or the right to approve changes to your material.

The main point is that when dealing with magazines whether it be for publication of an article, photographs or a combination of both make sure you get the deal that you want. On how to go about getting your work into magazines see submitting articles with accompanying photographs to magazines .

Within this article we have not covered images that you wish to make available wider, for example press releases, photos to BBC News etc, competitions that take rights and images made available under creative commons licences. We will look at these in further articles.

See also:

Copyright and Photographers

Magazine section

Getting Photos in Magazines

Creating illustrated articles


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